Now this does not mean that Greater Romans are rich and getting richer, though they seem to be closing in on the Georgia per-capita average of $35,979 for 2011. That’s pretty darn good for any place outside the Atlanta orbit.
However, this statistic from the U.S. Bureau of Economic Analysis is only a trend indicator to which many elements may contribute. Still, if national “consumer confidence” just reached a four-year high (also in time for Christmas shopping!) then this could be taken as a positive indicator for “community confidence” in the future.
Per capita is calculated by taking all sources of income (not just wages) and dividing it by the total population (including babies). If Warren Buffett and Bill Gates took up residence here Floyd County would be rolling in statistical wealth. If all the physicians and educators left, some South Georgia peanut patches might roar past us.
Still, this sure won’t hurt either image or development sales pitches.
IT MAY EVEN explain much about the recent upsurge in retailing/restaurant activity locally such as Publix coming, the major upgrades to Kroger and Sam’s Club and so forth. Numbers like these catch the attention of outfits looking to increase market share by entering markets where people seem able to afford what they have to offer. The new owners of Mount Berry Square mall are likely dancing a jig as they seek to fill empty spaces.
At the same time Bruce Jones, an economics professor at Georgia Highlands College, is correct in cautioning that in part this upward income movement may reflect that many of the jobs lost in Floyd County due to the impact of the national Great Recession may have been low-paying ones. However, there are other federal statistics over recent years that help create additional and more intriguing clues.
For example, in 2007 the Floyd County working force was listed as 45,100 in state Labor Department reports. Yet as of this October the same Labor Department lists those employed at 38,100, actually up 1,000 from a year earlier. The downturn hit in late 2008 with most job reductions occurring thereafter. More than 7,000 jobs have been lost yet per-capita income increased?
Sure, population is reported down at tad in 2011 to 95,989 from 96,287 in the 2010 federal Census that showed a steady, slow growth over the previous decade. So about 300 residents left for greener pastures after a period in which perhaps 7,000 jobs vanished?
THAT’S HARDLY what economists might expect to happen although Greater Rome has some unusual factors likely at work. There are a lot of tight-knit and long-resident families to whom roots mean a lot. There are a lot of folks who simply really like it here because of the quality of life and neighbors, not to mention a generally low cost of living (it makes limited sense to move to where a job is if it costs a lot more to live there). And then there’s likely a sort of special ace-in-the-hole here as Jones pointed out:
“If you’re looking for an educational opportunity, I don’t know where you’d go that you would have a better variety. There’s virtually nothing you can’t get here which isn’t the case in many places our size.”
As enrollments show, a lot of those whose jobs vanished went into classrooms. Those who came out tended to pick up jobs in health care and other positions requiring enhanced technological skills that pay better. Additionally, it would seem that the local available workforce — most of it apparently still resident — is now probably worth more to current and future employers than in places where those with existing skills had to relocate to find work.
Also remember, those losing jobs locally did not go to zero per-capita income. That figure reflects all income and not just wages/profits/dividends. It includes not only unemployment benefits and other stop-gap assistance but also such things as Social Security, pensions, HOPE scholarships and Pell Grants. All that counts.
NONETHELESS, the per-capita numbers alone are remarkable even allowing for inflation. For example, in 1999 in Floyd County the figure was $17,808. (That is $24,725.65 in 2012 money.) All the vanished textile mills and Northwest Georgia Regional Hospital were still around. By 2007 with jobs at their peak it was $29,199. Today it is $33,159.
There appears to be a somewhat untold and unrecognized economic sea change occurring in Greater Rome, one that actually predates the Great Recession and may have blunted what other places endured while brightening future prospects.
At the same time, even though Floyd is no longer the largest county in population for Northwest Georgia, it appears Greater Rome has strengthened its position as the overall most prosperous place in the region as well as the bellwether and focal point. It is the center for health care and higher education in the region; it is constantly strengthening its role as the services and retailing center.
In a sense, Rome has become the “Atlanta” for Northwest Georgia excepting only those portions already physically or economically in the orbit of Georgia’s giant city or Chattanooga’s energetic growth. For much of this region it would appear Rome is the “land of opportunity” for both those already present and those contemplating relocating their homes or businesses here.
THIS DOES not mean all things are fine and wonderful, to be sure. Much remains to be done so that all boats can float higher on what seems to be a rising local economic tide. The county’s poverty rate is above 18 percent; at least 5,000 residents would love to find meaningful work opportunities.
However, it is plain that over the past two or three decades there has been a remarkable transformation taking place involving not only onward but also upward as the looms fell silent and brains overtook brawn.
Al Hodge, president of the chamber, is correct in his analysis: “Businesses that are recruited are incentivized to come here and grow so those policies are working. ... We need to continue efforts to grow the community with quality, not growth at any price.”
The quality is showing up quite plainly not only in the statistics but also in the community’s visible attributes.
For all those within reading range of this newspaper, many still dealing with bumps and jolts largely created by outside forces, that may not yet be reason to cheer about statistical fireworks. However, the fuse is plain lit, the future looks pretty inviting, and that’s cause for optimism.
The light at the end of the tunnel is in plain sight.