The AJC Editorial Board
The Great Recession may be two years into the rearview mirror, but it doesn’t feel like it. Not with a Georgia jobless rate that crept up to 10.3 percent last month and metro Atlanta holding steady two months running at exactly that same number.
Matters aren’t worsening, but noticeable improvements seem in no hurry to burst onto the scene, either.
Yet, if we keep the faith a little while longer, and act prudently in the meantime, we’ll get back on track over time. There are some hopeful signs scattered amidst the tea leaves that economy-watchers regularly sift through for guidance as to whether we’re drifting toward either recovery, a re-recession — or just merely drifting.
For starters, it’s encouraging that Georgia is expected to show positive, if modest, job growth in coming years. According to IHS Global Insight data, Georgia’s projected to see average annual job growth of about 1.76 percent from 2011 through 2017.
By comparison, anticipated average growth nationally is about 1.497 percent. Considering that several states aren’t expected to hit even an average of 1 percent during that period, Georgia’s No. 11 ranking among the states and the District of Columbia is decent, if not spectacular.
And decent numbers will surely lead us out of the Great Recession, one job at a time. The trip will simply take longer than during go-go times of the past. Yet slower progress beats no progress any day.
And nothing could be much slower than Atlantans’ commute and leisure travel along our overstuffed transportation system. Fixing some of the largest problems will better both our regional and state economy as well as our routine travel times. That’s a two-for-one deal we should embrace.
The penny sales tax plan to invest $6.14 billion on regional transportation work and another billion on local work is just the type of infrastructure improvement that this metro area, region and nation badly need. It’s no secret that our nation’s transportation and other public works systems are overtaxed and outdated, if not just plain worn out. Even normally tax-averse admirals of industry agree on this point, from local chambers of commerce to heads of multinational corporations.
Several members of The Wall Street Journal’s “CEO Council” — a group of about 100 global leaders — went on record last month as pushing hard for improvements. Tom Albanese, CEO of Rio Tinto Group, told the Journal that “I travel the world on a regular basis, and U.S. infrastructure is simply not competitive. We are living off the capital of 50 years ago.”
Nowhere is that more true than in metro Atlanta. Approval of the transportation special-purpose local option sales tax will put people back to work in the short-term and build toward the longer-term needs of this region and state.
That’s a must-do, given that we ’ve staked much of our economic hopes on improving our status as a nexus for transportation and logistics businesses.
Large projects like the T-SPLOST will help greatly in economy-building. And the IHS data suggest investors are optimistic about Georgia’s future.
Continuing to improve investor comfort will ultimately lead to greater job growth. One hint: Low taxes, while important, aren’t the only carrot we should dangle. Not when we rank 49th among states in transportation investment, for example.
We need a balanced combination of fiscal prudence and targeted investments like those the T-SPLOST would fund to help the Atlanta region and Georgia outrun recession’s aftereffects.
Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board