Despite recent job growth across Georgia and the nation, Hall County has only recovered to prerecession levels in one of four key economic indicators, according to a new study released this week.
The 2014 County Economic Tracker: Progress through Adversity, prepared by the National Association of Counties, tracks annual changes in economic output (gross domestic product), job growth, unemployment and home prices in 3,069 U.S. counties.
“The County Economic Tracker reminds us that the U.S. economy can mask the realities of what is happening on the ground,” Emilia Istrate, director of research at the National Association of Counties, said in a statement.
“Economic growth is spreading, but most county economies have not recovered to levels seen before the recession.”
The study reports that while productivity in Hall County has recovered — based on gross domestic product — job growth, unemployment rate and median home sales prices have not yet returned to their prerecession marks.
According to the Georgia Department of Labor, metro Gainesville’s unemployment rate for November was 5.3 percent, down from 5.7 percent in October and 5.9 percent for the same period last year.
When the recession officially began in December 2007, metro Gainesville’s jobless rate was 3.6 percent.
While the recession officially ended in June 2009, unemployment continued to surge locally, topping 10 percent in January 2010.
Home sales and prices trickled up in 2014 across Hall County, but those figures are also still catching up to prerecession levels.
The median sales price in 2007 was $179,000 versus just $170,000 in 2014, according to local listings. And the average sales price in 2007 was $243,000 versus just $216,000 in 2014.
About half of all counties saw growth in all four indicators last year, according to the study, and nearly two-thirds experienced faster job growth than in 2013.
The study pegs Hall’s job growth rate at about 1.3 percent from 2013 to 2014, with long-term growth in employment estimated at 3.2 percent.
The average wage growth in Hall County between 2012 and 2013 was 1.7 percent, with the average wage in 2012 at $41,600.
“We’re in a whole lot better position now than we have been,” said Hall County Commission Chairman Richard Mecum.
Local business leaders and elected officials believe the diversity of Hall County’s industries helps it better weather financial storms.
“Diversification provides stability and the best assurance available of long-term positive growth,” said Tim Evans, vice president of economic development at the Hall County Chamber of Commerce. “Gainesville-Hall County’s diversified business community has made us an employment center for the region, helped provide economic stability during unstable times and created a business-led demand for skills that are investments in the workforce.”
Getting Hall County back to prerecession levels, however, remains a challenge.
Mecum said the region needs to expand its focus on workforce development, something that will take businesses, governments and schools working together to improve.
“The problem that we’re dealing with is that high schools have geared most of their education toward college preparation,” Mecum said, adding that more job-training education needs to be a part of the curriculum.