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Ten reasons to be optimistic
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Let me be clear about this first: This is intended to be a positive column. And as you, dear reader, peruse these listings of green roots of optimism, I hope you will resist as I did, the urge to provide a counter negative to every positive point made.  That has been the problem this year, every time I would read or hear of some reason to be optimistic, before I could write it down, I would run across a countermanding reason to be pessimistic.

As I think back over the past four years and the sinking of our state into this recession, I remember, almost without fail, the projections at the beginning of each year by economists predicting slow growth at the end of the year with a prediction of real growth maybe not this year but the next for sure. That was why we were always so surprised at the continued freefall and economic downturn, because we had expected a lot better. And every time the governor lowered the state revenue estimate to reflect reality, we always thought that this was the last time that would happen and this last set of cuts would level the budget out until prosperity came, which we were always told, was “just around the corner.”

So, maybe, the key to optimism is simply lower expectations.  If we don’t expect much, we will only be surprised if things turn out better than predicted. I don’t know if I have a chart to support this theory, only the memory of wrong graphs economists showed over the years. So, I  want you to know, that when you read these reasons below, understand that, yes, I know there is evidence of the possibility that this optimism is misplaced, but let’s hope we are all surprised in the most positive way in 2012.

Georgia’s leadership — Effective, steady, recognized — Disregard for the moment the disagreement among Senate leaders. The important thing is that the state has mature, seasoned leadership among all of its statewide leaders and on the important issues, they are together.  The bond underwriters recognize this and Standard and Poors gave its highest rating in the area of Governmental Framework to Georgia.  Governor Deal has the confidence of state leadership in government and in business and gets high marks for his approach so far. Speaker Ralston is a firm and steady, leader as is Lt. Gov. Casey Cagle. The fact that there are disagreements in operations in the Senate pale when compared to the battles ongoing in other states — see South Carolina. All of the players in the Senate issue are honorable and all join in on matters affecting the entire state.

Job growth — If you are not looking for a return to normalcy in 2012, then there is certainly reason for optimism in job trends. Again, if you put yourself back in time one year ago, there is reason to believe the state will make some progress in job growth in 2012 versus 2011.While Georgia does continue to trail the national unemployment rate, there is enough to be encouraged about. The latest manpower survey of Georgia employers shows plans to hire are steady or up  and plans to cut jobs dropping by 30 percent.

KIA — Great success story: KIA’s industry leading sales growth this year reminds us what a boost to the state that additio has been. The job predictions by the company have all been fulfilled and the future for this quality automobile company looks extremely bright.

Georgia’s ports —“South Carolina’s Jealousy is Showing” — An all-time record in container growth led the way in a year that saw all aspects of port operations show outstanding success compared to the industry’s very moderate growth nationally.  Exports, now recognized by the President as a top priority, continue to be the most nationally recognized success for Georgia’s ports with containerized exports from Savannah trailing only Los Angeles in tonnage. Brunswick’s success in roll-on-roll-off auto shipping increased over 50 percent for the past year more than tripling the national rate increase. Not even South Carolina’s childish behavior concerning the Savannah harbor deepening can detract from the national attention that Secretary LaHood’s visit and subsequent commitment pointed out.

Georgia’s population—Still growing — Not the economy, not the water issue, not immigration, no, not any of these perceived weaknesses kept the state from continuing to be in the top five states in population growth numbers for the last year since the census. Georgia added 128,000 people during the period of about 15 months ending in July 2011. Georgia’s rate of increase, 1.32  percent was almost a full half per cent more than the national average.

New Congressional seat—All right, no jokes about Congress here. Actually gaining a new Congressional seat from another state is a good thing from an economic standpoint. It carries with it a staff of probably 16-18 jobs, one really good salary of $174,000 plus benefits and likely a total office budget exceeding $1 million. Georgia will now have 14 Congressional seats.

Despite the drought affecting yields and in spite of immigration labor issues, the outlook for agriculture in Georgia remains bright as commodity prices have provided increases in profits of 20 percent on some commodities. Specifically, pecan prices have tripled over historic levels … the Chinese just love ’em. Peanut contracts are being offered for 2012 at the highest price in at least 10 years. Cotton prices are expected to reach over $1 per pound again as the world market holds this price up and everybody in China wants new clothes. Corn, soybeans and wheat are all trading up and the drought out west is driving cattle prices up. Easy to forget what high value industry agriculture is in Georgia but total farm-gate value exceeds $12 billion yearly.

Georgia’s tax collections continue to make moderate but steady improvement so far totaling 17 months straight of month over month increases. The December-January totals almost need to be considered together to get a better picture of the Christmas buying season and hiring during the period. (Christmas sales tax collections show up on January’s report) But growth this fiscal year so far is meeting budget needs and from almost all accounts Christmas retail sales were very strong this season. But we will have to wait for January’s report in February to be sure. Hurts to lose retailers like K-Mart and Sears, though … wait, I said not to be introducing negatives behind every positive!

“You Ought to be in Pictures!”—Even as some states are questioning the value of film/entertainment/commercial tax credits, Georgia continues to grow this part of the economy and it is hard to see a negative side. This past fiscal year, there were 327 combined productions here including movies and TV productions with a total value of all production budgets of $683.5 million and economic impact of $2.4 billion.

“Rumors of Our Demise are Premature”— Here’s an encouraging thought to carry into the new year:  The country didn’t go down the tubes when S&P lowered the U.S. bond rating this summer. The foreign government and banking crisis didn’t cause the U.S. system to collapse, the Euro did not fail, the fall of the government in Italy didn’t affect us nor did the complete failure of government in Greece pull Europe down or cause calamity to U.S. banks that have bought their debt.  In fact, the one action you can depend on in uneasy world markets is that business and governments both will hunt American dollars and American investments to place their assets in because all in all, the U.S. remains the safest economy in the world.             

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