Mercer University economist Dr. Roger Tutterow told the Cobb Board of Commissioners during their retreat last week at the Powder Springs Street Senior Center that it likely will be 2015 before the county and region at large see the kind of growth they did before the recent recession.
“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 country lost 8.8 million jobs between 2008 and 2010, and more than 4 million of them are yet to come back, he said. The state, meanwhile, lost 340,000 jobs and is still down by 188,000. Closer to home, metro Atlanta lost 206,000 jobs “peak-to-trough” and is still down by around 106,000.
So while a recovery is under way, it is still in the baby-step phase, so to speak.
“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.
Cobb’s unemployment rate has been edging down and was at 7.6 percent in December, well below the 10 percent readings during the recession but still a far cry from the 2.2 percent level it established during the go-go years of the 1990s.
“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.
That’s because Cobb is pretty much “built out,” with few large undeveloped tracts of farmland remaining. The focus now is apt to turn to regentrification and infill development in older, closer-in neighborhoods in parts of Marietta, Smyrna and east Cobb that were built in the 1950s-70s, he said. Meanwhile, bigger developments will continue in neighboring Paulding, Cherokee and Bartow counties, meaning Cobb will continue to suffer the congestion effects from those commuting to and from those communities. And Cobb’s overall population is likely to continue aging, which will have spillover effects on the local school systems and their financing.
The bottom line? The local economy is not yet back where it needs to be and isn’t likely to be for at least a few more years. And those years will be marked by a variety of related challenges.