The economic outlook for the state of Georgia and the Golden Isles for the upcoming year is “good news,” according to Ben Ayers, dean of University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business.
Ayers made the forecast for the year Monday at the Jekyll Island Convention Center as part of the university’s annual Georgia Economic Outlook tour across the state.
Ayers opened his presentation by recognizing Woody Woodside, the Brunswick-Golden Isles Chamber of Commerce for more than three decades. Woodside will retire later this spring.
For the sixth year in a row, Georgia will outpace the national economy, with 2019 predicted to be as good of a year as 2018, in terms of growth, Ayers said. Despite the tight labor market, he said the state economy is “surprisingly well balanced.”
It’s also the sixth consecutive year Georgia has been ranked No. 1 in the nation as the best state to do business.
The economy is expected to grow about 3 percent this year, slightly down from the 3.5 percent growth experienced last year. Nearly every sector from construction and education to health care and the hospitality industry will continue to grow.
Metropolitan areas are seeing a 14 percent rise in housing values from the pre-recession peak, but rural areas are still lagging about 2 percent behind, he said.
There are some potential obstacles that could change those numbers, however. Trade tensions are high, which could lead to a recession, and higher interest rates could impact Georgia more than other states. The low unemployment rate makes it difficult to fill some open positions, he said.
The risk of a recession is “relatively low” unless a trade war happens. But the consensus is positive for the upcoming year, he said.
“The Georgia economic outlook is good,” Ayers said. “It’s a good news forecast.”
The local outlook is also positive, said Don Mathews, professor of economics and director of the Reg Murphy Center for Economic and Policy Studies at the College of Coastal Georgia.
All six counties in the region experienced positive growth with each one posting positive gains last year, he said. Overall, each county has less than a 6 percent unemployment rate.
The biggest increase has been in the construction industry, which saw a 10 percent increase in employment last year, Mathews said. The hospitality industry saw a modest gain of 2 percent, but it remains an important part of the local economy with more than three million visitors to the region adding about $1.6 billion to local economies.
The 35-day government shutdown hurt, costing the region “hundreds of thousands” in lost revenue for hotel stays, alone.
Retail sales are also on the uprise, enjoying one of the best years “in a long time,” he said. There was a 9 percent increase in the region and 11percent in Glynn County, he said.
“This is really welcome news,” Mathews said. “Our retail sector has been struggling since the recession in 2007.”
The region has also seen a 6.5 percent increase in building permits and home values are up 4 percent, he said. And the Port of Brunswick is poised to see big increases.
In all, the region has seen steady, stable, well-balanced growth.
“That’s exactly the type of growth we want to see,” he said.
The goal is not for the region to be like Savannah or Jacksonville, Fla.
“I think we’re making progress,” he said. “We’re getting there.”
Locally, Mathews said he is “bullish” about the prospects for downtown Brunswick.
“I think there is a new enthusiasm about downtown and you see it with the influx of entrepreneurs,” he said. “It’s hard to find a parking spot in the daytime during the week downtown.”
He said there is a “new sense of urgency” about the potential downtown.
“This is an amazing place,” Mathews said. “I’m optimistic, overall.”