Moderated by Rick Badie
Looks like we will eat and shop our way out of the Great Recession. Partially, at least. The retail and food services industries led the nation’s job growth in April with 29,000 and 38,000 jobs, respectively, reports the U.S. Department of Labor. Atlantans love to dine. Here, fashion rules. Today’s guest columnists offer a regional perspective on the report.
Resilient restaurants a testament to the people
By Karen Bremer
Americans and Georgians alike may have recently been surprised by the employment figures released in early May by the U.S. Department of Labor. However, these numbers came as no shock to restaurateurs. In April, the job growth of the restaurant industry rose nationally by 38,000 people.
For all of 2012, the number of restaurant jobs in Georgia grew by 11,800. These numbers demonstrate the resilience and strength of the restaurant industry in job creation.
Our sector continues to grow as the average American dines out five times a week. The dining dollars represent almost 48 cents of every food dollar spent in Atlanta as well as across the state of Georgia, which has held that market share even through uncertain economic times. The restaurant industry is one of the few industries that has recovered all of the jobs lost during the Great Recession, as well as created 105,000 additional jobs nationally over pre-recession jobs. This growth is made possible because our industry is truly an industry of opportunity.
The restaurant industry also gives you the freedom of what you want, when you want it. When dining out, you have the option to choose what you eat, where you eat and how you eat it. One of the many positive aspects is that the restaurant industry gives guests the option to help support local farmers and programs such as Kids LiveWell, an initiative in which restaurants provide healthy meals for children.
With so many choices in the food service industry comes the reliance of the help of many hands. Nearly half of all adults have worked in the restaurant industry at some point during their lives, and more than one out of three adults got their first job experience in a restaurant. Eighty-one percent of restaurant employees said that the restaurant industry is a place where people of all backgrounds can open their own business. Restaurants also employ more minority managers than any other industry.
Another reason our industry continues to grow is a testament to the people. Food service providers possess optimism, joy and pride in serving others. In Georgia, 75 percent of all restaurants are considered small businesses. While some restaurants might be considered a franchise of a major restaurant brand, the owner and operator is still someone who is invested in his or her community.
Restaurant owners and operators have the courage to take risks and create businesses that produce jobs while spreading success to others. A great skill that restaurateurs also possess is that they can easily adapt to a rapidly changing industry. Restaurants are forced to respond quickly to the changing wants and needs of their employees and customers, which is made possible by the hands-on approach of restaurant operators. So as we continue to watch our restaurant industry grow, dine out, dine often, dine Georgia.
Karen Bremer is executive director of the Georgia Restaurant Association.
Retail strong; more growth expected
By Rick McAllister
As we approach the middle of the year, we are happy to report that Georgia’s retail industry is strong and expanding. The state continues to add jobs at a healthy rate and, in fact, posted the third-highest gain in payrolls in the United States recently, with 13,600 jobs added in March.
That’s good news for retailers. It means consumers are beginning to loosen up their pocketbooks and spend more. Because consumer spending accounts for well over two-thirds of our gross domestic product, our overall economic growth depends on a good outlook for consumer spending.
Because of our city’s position as a logistics hub and corporate headquarters location, Atlanta benefits from the growth in national and international economies as well. From the Georgia Retail Association office at AmericasMart Atlanta downtown, you can literally see the retail industry’s energy. Attendance continues to grow at the 2013 AmericasMart Atlanta shows. Retailers from every U.S. state and more than 90 countries buy consumer goods in large volume, according to representatives from AmericasMart Atlanta, host of the nation’s largest gift and home furnishings markets.
Auto sales and housing are two of the biggest drivers of retail’s comeback. An increase in job security means families are much more willing to make big-ticket purchases. The continuing decline in unemployment is certainly partly responsible for the comeback of Georgia shoppers. Home values are also increasing as excess housing inventory declines. When home values recover, families not only have more to spend, they are more willing to spend.
The impact of the housing market also ripples throughout retail. When people move, they will usually take the opportunity to upgrade their appliances, televisions, furniture, linens and everything else you need to furnish a home. That trend leads to an increase in customer traffic for virtually every major retailer, including home improvement retailers and electronics, furniture, department and discount stores.
We think the increase in consumer spending will continue and possibly accelerate as we continue through the year. In June and July, most families start to look ahead to the new school year, so back-to-school shopping will bring a lot of people out to the stores. By that time, we expect most consumers will have fully absorbed and adjusted to the expiration of the payroll tax cut this year, which reduced household budgets somewhat.
Unsteady gas prices have had an impact on household budgets this year, which can cut into discretionary income. However, the long-term trend in gas prices has been down. It appears that continuing increases in domestic energy production will keep prices under control for the foreseeable future.
The retail supply chain depends heavily on Atlanta and the Port of Savannah as a logistics hub, so the growth in the retail industry nationally has a very big local impact on our region. As we look forward to the rest of the year, I’m happy to report that the forecast is for growth.
Rick McAllister is president of the Georgia Retail Association.