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IDA: Countys economic picture is getting better
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After a lengthy recession, Effingham County’s economy appears to be headed in a positive direction, Effingham Industrial Development Authority CEO John Henry said.

Effingham’s average wages and employment statistics hold their own with those in neighboring counties, Henry pointed out, and are some of the best in Georgia.

“Last year saw an uptick in the local economy,” he said. “Things have leveled off. Everything is in a positive mindset right now.”

Unemployment in Effingham, which stood at 8.7 percent in January 2011, fell to 7.8 percent in January 2012. It is the lowest jobless rate for a group of counties including Bryan, Bulloch, Chatham, Liberty and Screven. Effingham also is one of only 22 counties in the state with an unemployment rate of 7.8 percent or lower.

The county is 22nd in the state in job growth and first when compared to the other five counties.

Effingham’s unemployment was an average of 8.7 percent for 2010 but fell to 8.3 percent for 2011. Unemployment was less than 4 percent in 2001 and remained at 4 percent or less through 2007. But it more than doubled from the middle of 2007 through the middle of 2009.

“That’s as steep as you’ll see without a Great Depression,” Henry said of the unemployment trend line. “It’s pretty scary.”

Unemployment peaked at nearly 9 percent in late 2009, and Effingham’s labor force, now at just over 27,000, has shrunk by nearly 1,000 in the last year, a loss of just over 3 percent of the work force.

“That’s a lot of roofers, a lot of real estate agents, who are no longer in the workforce,” Henry said. “Some people have pulled out of the labor force, and some not voluntarily.”

But there are other encouraging numbers, Henry noted, including the rise in average wages. The average weekly wage in Effingham has climbed to $721 per capita, and the annual average wage has risen from $34,580 to $37,492.

“A lot of that is a direct result of jobs at EFACEC and Gulfstream,” Henry said.

Effingham has gone from 34th in the state to 29th for average weekly wages. The county’s job growth from 2000-08 stands at 48.4 percent, while the county’s population has grown by 39.2 percent from the 2000 Census to the 2010 Census.

“There’s no question we’re doing a good job,” said IDA Chairman Dennis Webb. “We’re doing better than most counties in Georgia.”

Manufacturing salaries in Effingham stand at an average of $68,682, trailing only those in Chatham County in the six-county area used for comparison.

“That tells you the importance of manufacturing,” Henry said.

Two-thirds of the county’s workforce still is employed outside the county, with almost 58 percent of Effingham workers going to jobs in Chatham County. Of the people work in Effingham, nearly three-fourths — 72.5 percent — are from Effingham.

“Our goal is to create jobs and reduce unemployment to the greatest extent in Effingham County,” said IDA member Chap Bennett.

Though the county’s overall tax digest has fallen in value, due to a dip in the residential values, the reduction could have been greater if not for the growth in the industrial and commercial sectors, Henry said.

Though commercial and industrial values make up less than one-fifth of the total digest, the commercial sector has grown by 11.47 percent and the industrial sector is up by 5.29 percent. Overall, the digest is off by 2 percent.

“Industrial has held steady. But it is growing,” Henry said. “The growth in industrial and commercial mitigated the decline in residential. That’s why you need diversity in your tax digest. The growth in the commercial sector was a big surprise.”

The residential sector of the digest has fallen by 6.8 percent.

“That’s the scary part,” Henry said. “This could be the bottoming out. We just don’t know.”

In a five-year period, the industrial sector grew by 25.92 percent, and the commercial sector grew by 74.5 percent. Over that same five-year period, the residential sector grew by 29 percent, after a jump of 58.9 percent in a previous five-year period.

“This was the heart of the recession,” Henry said. “The commercial growth was phenomenal. We’ve said you don’t want to get weighted toward one sector too much.

“It looks like we’re doing a good job,” Henry added. “The biggest fear is the residential sector of the tax digest. But fortunately, we’ve seen a lot of growth. We haven’t seen the industrial or commercial turn negative.”