Dr. Joey Smith, professor and chairman of the economics department at the University of West Georgia, brought some good news to the members of the Douglas County Chamber Tuesday: The health of the local economy is good.

Smith gave the keynote address on the 2018 Economic Outlook at the January Douglas County Chamber GreyStone Power Luncheon with a unique mixture of wit and wisdom.

According to Smith, the natural rate of unemployment is 6 percent, but the average rate across west Georgia is averaging 4.1 percent “because you are hiring people,” he told the group of business leaders.

Smith said that while Douglas County’s unemployment rate of 4.5 percent is the highest within the six-county region, “we’re talking about small differences.”

“It is not a big economic difference in employment rates,” he assured. “The labor force is growing in every county. Douglas County has seen a significant improvement in unemployment over the past year.”

Smith said none of the counties are going backward, which he attributed to the fact that businesses are creating more jobs.

All counties in the region have improving employment numbers and people are finding work in all six counties in the west Georgia region. He said jobs in healthcare are strong and improving jobs means improving housing, where prices are up, construction is up and days on market (DOM) remain very low.

The total employment is up for Douglas County in all major categories.

“We’re not likely to go back to the 7 percent growth,” Smith said, “but we’ve seen consistent growth in the 2 to 3 percent range. There is growth in producing goods.”

He said Douglas County has an advantage in retail employment, with a location beneficial to draw from the east toward Atlanta and the west coming from Alabama.

“Douglas County has not suffered in retail as much as other counties in the region,” Smith said. “It has a location beneficial no matter what.”

Service jobs are on the uptake in the healthcare industry, due in part to the increase in the aging population, according to Smith.

Douglas County was hardest hit in the housing market by the great recession, he said, but all of the counties have recovered at peak before the great recession.

Smith said. “You should be seeing the price you paid for what you have in it and move. Being mobile is the hallmark of the American population, so people can move to get good jobs — here.”

He said in 2011 there were 698 new home permits in all of the combined six counties. In 2017, the combined counties permitted 3,300 new homes. Last year, the average days on market (DOM) to sell as home was 85 days. Now it has decreased to 67 days.

Smith said interest rates remain around 3.8 percent.

“The per capita income is up across all the counties,” Smith said, “which is good for housing and other economic activity."

The downside is there are further signs of a decelerating auto sector and weak growth in services employment and retail. Smith indicated that structural changes in retail may be long term. He said there is a long-term shortage of mid-level housing and that while unemployment rates are low, there are concerns about labor pool quality

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