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Is Lake Lanier's economic impact all dried up?
A lingering drought and a slumping economy have some businesses feeling a pinch
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The convergence of a multiyear drought and a prolonged dip in the economy has given businesses that depend on water and the outdoors a double dose of medicine they would rather not take.

"The drought has affected us," said Johnny Crowe of Water Sports Central, a boat dealership on Holiday Road in South Hall County. "I believe it has affected everyone in the entire state."

But Crowe admits that it is more than just boat dealers.

"Lake Lanier is an incredible jewel that North Georgia has been blessed with. It’s just heartbreaking to see the lake at the level it is."

He said the drought has particularly hurt sales to new boaters.

"We had just built a new showroom. Business was growing and service was increasing rapidly, and we converted our old sales facility into a state-of-the-art service center. We hired a lot of new people and were expecting a better year," he said.

A better year was also the dream of Georgia’s green industry, which was dealt a crippling blow in 2007 by the drought and the outdoor watering bans that followed.

The industry’s losses through November were estimated at $3.1 billion, according to a study by the University of Georgia.

"We are in a perfect storm with the economy and the lingering drought," said Sherry Loudermilk, executive director of the Green Industry Association of Georgia. "We’ve lost some businesses that will never come back. We’ve lost some people who were great in our industry that lost their jobs and had to go into other avenues. ...

"We did have a few weeks in the spring that we had continued rains that was very helpful."

Summer is the season when nurseries have their slow season; however, those in the wholesale plant business already are gambling on an improved fall season.

"Even in our fastest turnaround of plants in a greenhouse situation, you’re looking at six to eight weeks," she said, adding that the industry is waiting anxiously for state officials to issue directives on outdoor water use. "Those people in the greenhouses have already made their buying decisions on the plugs and raw material that it takes to grow out the fall colors."

Loudermilk said the recovery will take several years.

"All will not be rosy when spring comes around next year," she said.

For officials at Lake Lanier Islands resort, the slowdown in the economy has not stopped the $20 million renovation of what is now called Legacy Lodge. At the same time, the state authority that oversees the island has embarked on a separate $20 million plan that includes repaving most of the island’s roads and replacing an outdated wastewater treatment.

"Until now, the infrastructure improvements and the hotel renovations have had the most impact on business sales," said Shawn Davis, a spokesman for the resort.

"The drought has had an impact on boat rentals," Davis said. "It is difficult to say whether the impact on the hotel, which most of the industry is feeling, is stemming from the various improvements under way at the islands or the lake levels."

Davis said most of the hotel business comes from business groups and not leisure sales. He said leisure sales would be impacted the most by lake levels.