The unemployment rate has fallen in Georgia and this region. Other data show that 1,499 private sector jobs were created in Carroll County over the past year, a 5.5 percent increase.
“That’s the equivalent of three large businesses moving here,” said Joey Smith, associate professor of economics at the University of West Georgia. “That would have been great if we weren’t trying to catch up from previous jobs losses.”
There has been evidence that business is improving locally.
On Friday, Decostar Industries announced a $26 million expansion of its Carrollton facility, including the addition of 120 jobs. New restaurants and retail establishments have opened or are building along Highway 27 south of downtown Carrollton, while Kroger continues a huge rebuilding project. New manufacturing firms are moving into existing facilities in Villa Rica. Tanner Medical Center is finishing a major addition in Carrollton and the University of West Georgia continues a massive construction effort.
“We’re hearing positive things from companies contemplating construction or expansion,” said Daniel Jackson, president and CEO of the Carroll County Chamber of Commerce and Carroll Tomorrow. “We’re getting plenty of inquiries and new interest from international firms, so we’re hopeful.”
However, he admits that it is one thing to get inquiries, quite another to actually sign contracts with companies that lead to new construction and more jobs for local residents.
For Carroll County, 2011 and 2012 were good years for construction projects. Bryan Partin, chief inspector at the Carroll County Community Development Department said the big projects, the new justice center as well as additions and improvements at the county school system, are nearly completed.
“My feeling is that we will see about the same, or a slightly less amount of construction activity in 2013,” he said. He added that he doesn’t expect much activity in homebuilding either. “The residential side of new construction is still down.”
“We’re probably not going to see a lot of new residential building over the next year or so,” predicted UWG’s Smith. “We still have a lot of inventory that remains unsold so we’re not talking about a rosy, quick recovery in construction.”
Smith’s assessment came just a few days after the U.S. Commerce Department reported builders across the country began construction last month on the most homes and apartments since July 2008. The government said single-family home construction fell but multi-family-unit building increased dramatically.
That’s exactly what is happening now in West Georgia. Carrollton’s assistant city manager Tim Grizzard said three apartment complexes will be built next year, a total of 208 units. He said all will be student apartments, located around the West Georgia campus.
He said an eight-unit complex will be built along Brumbelow Road, 40 apartments will be constructed on Cunningham Drive and the biggest complex will come on Lovvorn Road near the University of West Georgia football stadium, where 160 apartments will be completed.
Compare that total to Atlanta, where apartment construction has picked up dramatically. DataBank, the real estate advisory group, projects 4,577 apartment units will be built in the capital city next year and says the trend will continue into 2014.
“As far as single-family housing is concerned, we don’t see a lot of that, an occasional permit here and there,” said Grizzard.
Hundreds of homes are unsold or vacant across the city and until that housing glut is reduced, new construction will remain on hold, he said.
And Grizzard doesn’t expect the industrial building boom of 2012 to be repeated next year.
“The commercial construction we’ll see is just finishing up projects that were started this year,” he said.
That view is echoed by UWG’s Smith.
“In 2013 commercial construction is not going to continue at the same pace,” he said. “We’ll see activity in the first quarter of the year but we won’t repeat the success of 2012 construction.”
It’s a similar story in Villa Rica where City Manager Larry Wood sees very little new housing construction in the year ahead.
“We have a 60-unit senior citizen complex on Connor Road, where ground has been broken and construction is expected in 2013,” he said.
But Wood doesn’t foresee any single-family construction on the horizon.
“Villa Rica still had 496 vacant homes within city limits, as of October 31,” Wood said. While that sounds bad, he added it is actually an improvement over 2010, when 650 homes sat empty.
Wood said there’s been a great deal of interest by businesses that like Villa Rica because it is adjacent to Interstate 20 and close to Atlanta and Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport.
“We’re filling up buildings that became vacant during the recession but we’re almost out of vacant industrial buildings now,” Wood said. “When those are gone, we’re out of space.”
Still, there’s optimism. Wood said Villa Rica is on the short list of a company that may take over an existing industrial space and construct a new addition in 2013.
“I was hoping to make an announcement by Thanksgiving but that didn’t happen,” he said. Wood said another company has approached the city about building a new facility on vacant land but no deal has been reached.
Chamber CEO Daniel Jackson is also keeping his fingers crossed about the industrial outlook.
But it will take more than one big announcement to get Carroll County back on track and the construction sector humming once again. That wait may be longer than most people would like.
“We’re not talking about a big rebound yet,” said UWG’s Smith. “We’re talking about a very small recovery and it’s going to take a long time before we see substantial recovery in the housing market.”
Or, as Rajeev Dhawan, director of the Economic Forecasting Center at Georgia State University put it at his Nov. 14 quarterly forecasting conference in Atlanta: “2013 is already done and gone, the damage is already done,” he said. “2014 will be fabulous. I love 2014.”