Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Georgia Economic 'Snapshots'

When I first read the headline noting ATL is the #31 destination for movers according to U-Haul I was thinking 'cool, this is good for us!'. Unfortunately, when I read the article we were #1 in 2008 and #6 in 2009. People, Georgia is lagging! It's not just the data from 1.4M rentals by U-Haul--it's our water issues, our schools and our transportation problems. MARTA rail? Forget it... for a city our size we have the fewest miles of rail (compare us to Washington DC). We need to have a regional entity to make ATL competitive on that front. Many other topics but that's just one bugging me right now. The top 5 cities per U-Haul? 1-Houston (Houston?); 2-Orlando; 3-Vegas; 4-Chicago; 5-Portland. Oh what the heck-- 6-San Antonio; 7-Austin; 8-Brooklyn; 9-Sacramento and 10-Kansas City, MO (huh?).

We're also #8 for "financial distress". We scored 61.3 on CredAbility's Financial Distress Index--a score below 70 indicates a state of financial distress. A score of 60 or less is considered an emergency crisis. We are unfortunately in "good company". The top-10 in order are: Michigan, Mississippi, Nevada, Alabama, Florida, South Carolina, Indiana, Georgia, North Carolina and California. The 'punchline' in this story is that these 10 states produce over 33% of the country's GDP (no, it's not really a punchline, more like a punch in the gut). In essence, economic indicators are looking up; it's just that individual bottom lines have not fully recovered. Give it time; hang on fellow Georgians! Who knows--maybe we'll be able to vote on Sunday sales sometime soon; wouldn't that be a novel concept!

Losing to gain...?

There was an interesting article in the AJC today talking about a couple that 'bit the bullet' and lost money on the sale of their townhome in order to purchase a new home for a pretty solid discount. That may well be our 'new normal' for quite some time with values continuing to drop (or remaining stagnant). This is a difficult mindset to overcome (to 'break even' or even lose money on a sale) and an even more difficult situation if a seller has to write a check to sell their home--how will they pay for their new home?
There are more positive signs that the economy as a whole is looking up. Unfortunately, one of the indicators is somewhat misleading for us in Georgia. While unemployment has dipped to 9% in the US, the unemployment rate actually rose to 10.2% in Georgia. What is happening? Unfortunately, many of our lost jobs were tied to construction, be it commercial or residential. As we all know, neither area has bounced back solidly. I read an article in the Atlanta Business Chronicle and I think it actually said that there are NO commercial projects over 20 stories being built at this time and we all see the vacant strip malls and empty 'big box' stores all over metro Atlanta.
So what's next for us? We still have several bright spots out there. The port in Savannah is growing like gangbusters (cross your fingers for money to deepen the harbor); the ATL airport is still the busiest in the world and Kia has expanded their plant already (and I believe they are expanding again!) down in West Point and there are other producers out there (though the new Volkswagen plant in Chattanooga didn't hire any Georgia workers--no wonder they chose 'the dark side' for their Super Bowl commercial). All in all, real estate is at or nearing the bottom. Prices are great; rates are great--no news there. The only change that needs to happen is to get people out there buying. Unfortunately, we need to get more people employed to make that happen. With that being said, consumers are out shopping again; my hope is that we'll see Home shoppers out there again soon!