While 2009 was not good to Georgia’s work force, 2010 is looking up, even if just slightly.
In the past year, the state’s unemployment rate rose nearly 3 percent and the federal government seized about 25 banking institutions.
Also, Georgia was among the nation's leaders in foreclosures, outpacing at least 40 other states.
The slowdown was felt in Forsyth County, where the unemployment rate climbed from 5.6 to 8.3 percent over the past year.
But many are optimistic for a positive 2010, though it may not be a quick turnaround for the state and county.
“We are probably not completely out of the woods by any means,” James McCoy said. “But I think it’s going to be a crawl in the right direction.”
McCoy, president and chief executive officer of the Cumming-Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce, said gradual economic improvement would be ideal.
“It’s hard for people to hear this, but if we had a really strong comeback, we would see really serious problems with inflation,” he said.
“When you look at how communities grow and develop, it really is a marathon, and slow and steady wins the race.”
McCoy’s optimism for 2010 is shared across the country, according to a recent AP-GfK poll.
The nationwide sampling showed 73 percent of the 1,001 adults surveyed thought 2009 was a bad year for the country and 38 percent said it was tough for their family.
But for 2010, 72 percent said things are looking up for the country and 82 percent thought the same for their family.
Businesses showed a slightly less positive outlook in a recent Manpower Employment Outlook Survey for the first quarter of 2010.
In the South, 74 percent of companies interviewed said they didn’t plan to change their staff levels. Ten percent planned to decrease their work force, while 12 percent planned to hire.
The survey showed similar results around the nation.
Jeff Joerres, Manpower's chairman and CEO, said in a statement that “to see an increase over the fourth quarter is unusual and seems to indicate increased confidence levels from employers."
“There is still a lot of ground to make up in the labor market, but the overall increase in hiring intentions is clearly a positive,” Joerres said.
The good news is Forsyth is “flooded with available labor supply,” said Frank Norton Jr., president of Gainesville-based Norton Agency, a real estate and insurance firm.
While wages may not be as high, he said there will be more jobs available as the market makes a comeback.
Norton said an uptick in the housing market could help draw employment locally, starting with the southern part of the county.
“We see the south Forsyth market bouncing back faster,” he said. “North Forsyth is going to take a little bit longer because it’s a farther distance to employment zones.”
As the market recovers in the county, retail will expand, starting with necessities like grocery stores, Norton said.
But regardless of the job market, he said the county's south end will continue to draw residents from northern Fulton County. Both counties have quality school districts, but the average home price in Fulton is $540,000, compared to Forsyth’s $375,000 average.
“People can buy a lot more house in south Forsyth than they can in north Fulton,” Norton said.
McCoy noted that Forsyth’s foreclosures have slowed, with some spec homes being built, including a handful behind his own house.
The increase in homes is in tandem with a rise in employment, he said.
“Smart businesses are going to know that now is a really good time to find some really good talent they may not have been able to get a year ago,” he said.
“Even in really good times, people are making hard decisions because of their individual business. But I think overall we’re probably going to see our unemployment rate come back down a smidge here or there.”
The county continues to be in a better position than the state and nation in terms of job losses and housing.
The construction industry has taken a major hit locally. But if history is any indication, McCoy said Forsyth will bounce back faster and stronger than the state
“A 30-year period of time in the history of a community is kind of a bat of an eye," he said. "We need to take the long-term approach.
“We’re still ahead of most other communities in the state and really around the country, and I think we’ll continue to see that.”