Mali R. Schantz-Feld (June/July 09)
While it may take some time before Georgia's economy becomes as peachy as it was before the recession, there is still much optimism in the state. Jeffrey Humphreys, director of economic forecasting at the University of Georgia's Terry College of Business notes that "Georgia and the nation are relatively synchronized, experiencing recessions that are similar in magnitude, and I believe they will both experience similar recovery." He says the state's economy is "closer to the recovery phase of the cycle than a lot of people realize." After an expected improvement in the state's gross domestic product in the fourth quarter of 2009, job increases are expected to follow in the second quarter of 2010.
The biggest private-sector news surrounds the Kia Motors Corporation's first auto manufacturing plant in the United States, located in West Point, which Humphrey's says will help to offset heavy manufacturing job losses in other areas of the state. The $1 billion project, known as Kia Motors Manufacturing Georgia, Inc. (KMMG), will have the capacity to produce 300,000 vehicles per year. It is under construction on a 2,200-acre site. The company received more than 43,000 applications over a 30-day period for the 2,500 jobs offered at the plant. In addition to the Kia facility itself, nearby Tier 1 supplier companies are expected to generate an additional 7,500 jobs. The project currently is on schedule for start of production in the last quarter of this year. Randy Jackson, a Kia human resources officer, says training is of the utmost importance. "We basically have people who have not worked around automotive, but we have people in this part of the country that have extremely strong work ethics."
Aerospace also accounts for the economy's anticipated takeoff. Robert Baugniet, director of corporate communications for Gulfstream Aerospace, a wholly owned subsidiary of General Dynamics, says the area "is an excellent transportation hub, has an excellent work force and available land at the airport, as well as an ongoing relationship with the Savannah College of Art and Design and Savannah Tech," he says. "When we opened in 1967, we had 100 employees and today have 6,000 people working for us," he says.
As part of Gulfstream's long-range facilities master plan, a $400 million, seven-year phased expansion that is expected to create up to 1,100 new jobs, the company is building a new Savannah Service and Support Center that is more than double the size of its current facility to meet the ongoing demand for business-jet aircraft support, maintenance, and refurbishment. The building project is slated for completion at the end of this year.
A strong anticipated recovery - including 10,000 new jobs in the in the Columbus area - is attributed to activities at Fort Benning. While the 2005 BRAC closures caused woes in other areas, Georgia benefited from the plans to move the U.S. Army Armor School to Fort Benning, where it will be combined with the Army's Infantry School. The project is moving steadily toward its federally mandated September 2011 completion date. Gary Jones, executive vice president of military affairs for the Valley Partnership, says that $1 billion in construction is currently taking place at Fort Benning and by late summer, an additional $800 million in new construction will begin.