UGA officials make projections for the state and Athens area economy

The University of Georgia's annual Georgia Economic Outlook luncheon held this week in Athens featured a positive outlook on the state's economy, one that appears particularly strong for the Athens area.

Dean of the Terry College of Business Benjamin C. Ayers predicted that the fall in inflation would lead to a nationwide recession. Slower economic growth this year will „promote faster economic growth in 2025,” Dean says.

„We're not predicting a recession,” Ayers told a crowd that filled a banquet hall at The Classic Center in downtown Athens.

The annual event takes its economic message to locations across the state, including Atlanta, Augusta, Columbus, Albany and Macon.

At the local level, Geoffrey Humphreys, director of the Selig Center for Economic Development at the College of Business, said Athens should expect faster job growth than other states as it sees significant success in private sector development programs. Broadening the economic base of the region.

In his speech, he noted Meissner Corporation's decision to expand its manufacturing complex to create more than 1,700 jobs, along with plans to expand Boehringer Ingelheim's plant and create 55 more jobs. Two other industries with UGA ties will add about 450 new jobs to Athens, he said.

„The number and breadth of recent economic development project announcements is outstanding for a relatively small metro area,” Humphreys said.

While the educated labor force in Athens outstrips the nation or state, wages and salaries must rise to retain those employees, he said.

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Humphreys noted other workplaces, such as the local film industry, are tied to the state's strong film industry. He noted that Reynolds Capital opened a new 350,000-square-foot studio in Athens, and that Athena Studios recently purchased an additional 65 acres for its location.

According to Humphreys, demographics also play a role in Athens' economic status, noting that there are more young residents than older ones. And the proximity to Atlanta has its advantages.

8% of workers living in Athens commute to Atlanta for work, while commuters from Atlanta occupy 10% of jobs in Athens.

But there are challenges facing Athens.

One concern, he said, is the area's „overvalued single-family housing market and tight apartment market.”

Humphreys said that while the housing market is overvalued, demand for housing and very few listings of homes for sale will keep prices from falling.

This recent increase in rents and home ownership could slow the influx of retirees moving to Athens, as the area is a „convenient, yet very affordable, place to live,” he said.

„Athens' cost of living has already risen to 97% of the US average,” he said, but that's still less than Atlanta's cost of living.

However, Athens is „less exposed to the ups and downs of real estate development than the country,” he noted. He said housing-related employment accounted for only 7% of the total number of jobs in the sector.

„Eventually, you can expect job growth to slow, but not stop,” he said.

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