Recent data suggest that the U.S. economy is growing at a modest pace as real GDP increased by 1.9% in 2016Q4 (compared to 3.5% in 2016Q3). The most recent employment report provides additional evidence of an expanding U.S. economy as non-farm sectors added 227,000 jobs in January 2017. The U.S. unemployment rate was little changed at 4.8%. The most recent Case-Schiller Home Price Index shows continued improvement in the housing market
with November 2016 U.S. home prices up 5.6% compared to November 2015. Housing prices in the Atlanta MSA are rising slightly faster than the nation as a whole, up 6.1% year-over-year. Unemployment rates in December 2016 were little changed in all six counties in the West Georgia Region compared to
December 2015. Unemployment rates in three of the six counties (Carroll, Coweta, Polk) were up slightly, in two counties (Haralson, Paulding), the rates were unchanged and in one county (Douglas) the rate fell modestly. At 4.5%, Paulding had the lowest unemployment rate in the region, while Carroll and Polk were tied with the highest rate, at 5.7%. While unemployment remains little changed year-over-year, the number of initial claims for unemployment insurance was down in all counties in the region when comparing December 2016 to December 2015. The drop in unemployment claims exceeded 50% in two counties, Haralson and Polk.
Recent employment growth, 2.5% between 2015Q3 and 2016Q3, provides evidence of a continuing economic expansion in the region. With the exception of temporary employment and retail trade, all major sectors sustained job gains between 2015Q3 and 2016Q3. Sectors with the strongest growth (in excess of 2%) included construction, manufacturing, health care and accommodation/food services. The improving fiscal situation in the public sector resulted in relatively strong growth in government employment, up 1.9% between 2015Q3 and 2016Q3. Aided in particular by job growth in retail, health care and accommodation/food services, Douglas County experienced the fastest job growth in the region, up 4.4%. New construction and health care jobs were mainly responsible for the strong employment gains in Paulding County (up 3.2%). Three other counties in the region sustained modest job growth over the 2015Q3-2016Q3 period. About one-half of Carroll County’s new jobs (up 2.6%) were a result of production related employment (construction and manufacturing). The addition of over 100 manufacturing jobs were a significant contributing factor to Haralson County’s 2.1% growth rate. In Coweta County, the addition of about 300 retail and 200 health care jobs allowed the county to offset softness in some other sectors and to sustain an overall 1.5% employment gain.
The loss of jobs in both the manufacturing and retail sectors were mainly responsible for overall job decline of 2.8% in Polk County. A number of current and future developments will impact the economic outlook and the quality of life in the region. In Carroll County, public sector construction projects include a new Carroll County School Performing Arts Center, a major project at Carrollton High School, and a $24 million expansion of the Biology Building on the UWG campus. In late January, Tanner Health Systems broke ground on the $37 million expansion of its medical center in Villa Rica. In January, Colorado Premium announced that it will be investing about $15 million in a new meat processing facility in Carrollton. The plant is expected to open in late 2018, adding about 190
jobs. On a negative note, the HoneyBaked Ham Company announced that it will be closing its Carrollton plant on May 1st. Winpak, a manufacturer of packaging material, recently added 30 jobs at its Senoia (Coweta County) facility. NYCO America, which specializes in synthetic lubricants, recently opened a new logistics center in Newnan. The company cited the “probusiness” environment as one of the major deciding factors to locate in Newnan. Other business developments in Coweta County include a new Starbucks in the Thomas Crossroads area and a new Sleep Inn behind the Race Trac in Newnan. The Los Angeles-based home fashion company, Z-Gallerie, announced in January that it will be opening its east coast distribution and service center in Lithia Springs (Douglas County). The center will add about 115 jobs and is expected to be fully operational by 2019. British American Rubber Company is scheduled to open its Tallapoosa rubber plant (Haralson County) in March, adding 20 jobs.