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10 reasons to be optimistic in 2013
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Yes, this annual column may be a little later this year. There are a number of reasons, and the disarray in Washington has something to do with them. Others have to do with coming up with “optimistic” reasons where I am seeing maybe “encouraging” signs for 2013.

Webster uses adjectives like “best possible” in defining “optimistic.” Anybody who thinks the solutions coming out of Washington fit the “best possible” conclusion just simply has returned from Colorado or Washington state enjoying the newly-voted freedom to use marijuana.   “Encouraging,” on the other hand, according to Webster, uses words like to “stimulate, incite or foster” in its definition.

So, if we are to leave the title of this column with “Optimistic” in it, we probably should put disclaimers like the lawyers and drug manufacturers do at the end of the commercials.

My disclaimer for this column and indeed for the beginning of 2013 is the one you see on the right-hand mirror on your car:  “objects are closer than they appear.” While we have every reason to be both encouraged and optimistic about our economic future in 2013, there is strong reason to believe that events at the highest levels of government in this country are going to have effects that the state will have to react to and in fact may inhibit our recovery and progress.

And that the $17 trillion national debt, and the certain day of reckoning and resultant pain for all, “is closer than we think."

So, with the above disclaimer, here are my “Ten Reasons to be Optimistic (Encouraged) in 2013.”

1. Georgia’s economic development efforts continue to show progress. In 2012, Georgia’s Department of Economic Development reported 385 projects and expansions in Georgia, over $7.4 billion in new investment creating some 26,000 jobs when all are operational.

2. Agriculture in Georgia continues to be generally profitable. Soybean prices are at an all-time high and both corn and peanuts had record yields and prices. Onions and fresh vegetable prices were satisfactory in a good production year. Cotton, while prices have returned to around 70 cents a pound, is still enjoying a profitable year due to high production yields. Poultry exports remain strong and a third wood pellet plant announcement this week highlighted the growing biomass market in Europe.

3. Georgia, the Southeast and the entire country will continue to benefit from the dramatically increased natural gas and oil production in the U.S.  It is causing in Georgia a rebirth of fleet vehicles operated by gas, and Savannah’s ports will become an exporter, not an importer, of natural gas from Elba Island.

4. You can’t grow without population growth. Georgia has continued to grow even after the 2010 reapportionment and despite the recession. Interestingly, Dr. Albert Niemi, dean of the Cox School of Business at SMU, reported recently that Georgia ranked third nationally during 2004-10 in in-migration and had the highest number of  in-migrations from abroad.

5. Georgia’s unemployment has continued to drop and last month sank to its lowest point since 2009. While 8.5 percent is still high, Georgia’s rate is steadily falling and compares favorably to other Southeastern states.

6. Every week or so, there is a national news article about crises in pension funds around the country and in some states pension benefits and COLAs are being cut or eliminated. Georgia’s two big ones TRS and ERS, rate well nationally, and have received appropriate state contributions. In the 2014 state budget, Gov. Deal is proposing to add over $127 million to keep those funds in good shape.

7. Even in unsettling times in the world’s economies, Georgia’s ports continue to show strong gains in imports and exports and the future is especially bright if the port deepening continues to move in a timely fashion.  So far in FY 2013, total tonnage is up 4.1 percent and container tonnage is slightly down (-0.4 percent), which, given the strike threat, fiscal cliff potential and other world economic factors, is probably pretty good. A bright spot is equipment and auto “roll-on roll-offs” showing a 23.1 percent increase. The total tonnage at Brunswick is up 54.5 percent. Wood pellets exports, mentioned elsewhere, is also up substantially.

8. “It ain’t bragging if it’s true”…well, Georgia is still selling infrastructure bonds at historically low interest rates due to continued confidence of the bond underwriting agencies who validated the states AAA bond rating. Moody’s cited Georgia’s “conservative fiscal management, moderate debt burden and relatively well-funded pensions.”

9. New home and multifamily construction is beginning to shake off the cobwebs of the recession and move forward. According to the Georgia Chamber, for the first 10 months of 2012, building permits statewide averaged a 31 percent increase and ranged from a 101 percent increase in Athens/Clarke County to minus figures in areas such as Valdosta, Rome and Augusta.

10. The number of bankruptcies was a sure sign of the recession, so a declining number has to mean something positive is happening. Georgia Credit Union Affiliates reports that nationally the number of bankruptcies decreased by 12 percent in 2012 and the Georgia number is two percentage points better than the national average.

I may be reached at
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