“So while we are making progress, we need to acknowledge it will be a full two years more before things look normal again in terms of the labor rate, and that assumes the economy does not get additional shocks,” he said.
The Mercer University professor made his remarks during a daylong Board of Commissioners retreat held at the Powder Springs Street Senior Center.
During the recession years of 2008 to 2010, the country lost 8.8 million jobs and is still down by 4 million. The state lost 340,000 and is still down by 188,000, while metro Atlanta lost 206,000 “from peak-to-trough” and is still down about 106,000. So while there is a recovery, it is a timid recovery, Tutterow said.
“We’re making progress, but if you look at it year over year, we’re up about 37,000 jobs, so if you’re still down 106,000 even if you have some acceleration of job creation, it will likely be 2015 before we get back to 2007 levels,” he said.
The unemployment rate, which reached as high as 10 percent in Cobb during the recession, fell to 7.6 percent in December.
But Tutterow said even if it falls to what would be considered a fairly healthy labor market in the high fives or low sixes, consider the 2.2 percent level it reached in the late 1990s. At that time, fast food restaurants had to offer bonuses because they couldn’t find enough workers.
“We have to be realistic and understand that Atlanta’s economic story probably from the late ’80s through much of the 2000s is unlikely to be replicated,” Tutterow said.
In the past, metro Atlanta was the only place where companies wanted to move when eyeing the Southeast, but competition from places like Charlotte and Nashville is much higher now.
Cobb has also matured during the last 10 to 15 years and is not seeing quite the influx of people as in the ’80s and ’90s.
“As we’ve matured as a county, we’ve kind of built the county out,” he said. “We still see some real estate development at the residential level, but what we don’t have is what we had in the ’80s and ’90s in terms of hundreds and hundreds of acres of farm land to be turned into subdivisions.”
For the real estate development moving forward, the county is much more likely to see regentrification of areas built in the ’50s, ’60s and ’70s, as well as smaller infill construction.
“The large volume of new home construction has moved to Paulding County, has moved to Cherokee County in the last decade and even there has moderated to some degree, so we need to acknowledge going forward we’re not going to pull the same number of permits, we’re not going to have the large scale development that we had back in the ’80s and ’90s, and that’s OK,” he said.
That change means the volume of services the county has had to provide will not have to grow as fast, because the population is growing at a more moderate rate. But the other side of the coin is that the Baby Boomers are reaching the retirement age and opting out of paying the school tax portion of their property taxes.
“So it’s going to be kind of interesting going forward about what kind of discussion we have about how we collect tax revenues,” he said.
Two of the sectors that have held the region back from achieving 2007 levels of growth have been the construction and financial services sectors. Georgia led the nation in bank failures during the recession, for example. But this is the year Georgia will catch up, he predicted.
“Before the end of 2013, metro Atlanta and Cobb County will experience employment growth higher than the national average for the first time since about 2006,” he said.
Two sectors of Georgia’s economy that continued to see costs rise during the recession were education and health care. And since those two areas make up 80 percent of the state budget, the Gold Dome will see another couple of tough years before it returns to normal, he said.
Tutterow applauded the county’s relationship with the state’s economic development office, noting how critical it was to landing companies interested in the region. And while some may take a dim view of offering economic incentives to lure companies here, there’s not much choice when everyone else is doing the same thing, he said.
“The problem is if everyone around you is doing incentives, you’re kind of backed into a corner,” he said.
For the county to have maintained its AAA bond rating through the recession is something to be proud of, because businesses view that as a sign of a fiscally responsible government. Cobb continues to have a good school system, a responsible government and one that invests in its infrastructure, he said.
“We do need to acknowledge that the competition is intense,” he said. “The North Fulton Corridor, Gwinnett County, obviously Paulding and Cherokee, are counties that are also trying to be very aggressive with the same issues, but I do think we are still in a position to be the leader for metropolitan Atlanta over the next decade like we have been over the last two.”