For one local economist, however, that enthusiasm is tempered by an unknown variable: the effect of the Affordable Health Care Act on businesses and individual households.
"I'm cautiously optimistic that the economy will continue to grow," said Don Sabbarese, director of the Econometric Center at Kennesaw State University. "It seems like every time in the last three years the economic forecasts were more optimistic than the reality. I think the economy will continue to grow. The question is the growth rate; is it going to be higher than the 2 percent we've been averaging the last couple of years?"
Amid a string of surprisingly robust economic data - businesses have stepped up hiring, new factory orders from abroad are at a two-year high, and consumers have been flocking to car lots and restaurants - the overall economic outlook for the U.S. has improved sharply in recent weeks.
"What I'm looking at is job growth," Sabbarese said. "On a national level and the state level, job growth is moving in the right direction. In the last four months, we've averaged 200,000 new jobs nationally, and what that basically does is create more income and more confidence and that enhances consumer spending, which is a tremendous positive for the economy moving forward. Georgia has added 80,000 new jobs this year."
The majority of those jobs in Georgia were added in the leisure, hospitality, education, health services, transportation and construction industries, Sabbarese said.
“Another plus, debt burdens continue to fall, giving consumers more money for discretionary spending,” he said.
One of the drags on the 2013 economy, Sabbarese noted, was the government shutdown, but he points to health care as a factor this year.
“Health care legislation is the wild card for 2014, and how that’s going to affect consumer spending and business decisions,” Sabbarese said.
“I think that legislation is going to have a lot of unintended consequences, and how businesses will respond to that legislation may be a greater factor in the 2014 economy than the federal bank’s monetary policy.”
With interest rates rising and likely to tick higher as the Federal Reserve begins to pull back on its $85 billion in monthly bond purchases — a key stimulus aimed at spurring the recovery — Sabbarese thinks overall economic growth next year will fall short of the 3 percent other economists are predicting.
“My best guess is you’re looking at national GDP growth of 2.5 percent, maybe 2.75 percent, with Georgia’s around 3 percent,” he said. “Georgia was hit hard in the last recession, but in the last two years, the economy has really improved a lot.”