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5 issues facing Forsyth County and the U.S., according to one economist
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Kenneth Silver, chief economist for Southern Company, speaks during the 2020 Economic Outlook Breakfast on Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2020, hosted by the Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce. - photo by Kelly Whitmire

Forsyth County is commonly ranked as the highest-earning county in Georgia, and on Tuesday morning, locals involved in the business world heard about economic trends from a pro.

Kenneth Shiver, chief economist for Southern Company, spoke at the Forsyth County Chamber of Commerce’s 2020 Economic Outlook Breakfast on Tuesday, where he shared his thoughts on trends facing Forsyth County, the state and the rest of the country.

Trade war

As a trade war between the United States and China continues, Shiver said some progress has been made but had also led to hesitancy from some businesses waiting to see how things played out.

“If you look at the numbers, it’s hard not to argue there needed to be a balancing of our trade relationship with China,” Shiver said. “The question mark is how do you do it, how do you do it in a way that is a long-term, lasting transformation of that relationship.”

Population growth

It’s no secret that Forsyth County’s population has grown by leaps and bounds in the last few decades, and to no surprise, Shiver said the county was growing faster than the country or the state but all have slowed down since the 1990s.

“U.S. population growth dropped from plus-1% growth ever year down to about half a percent a year. Georgia, almost 2% growth back in the 1990s, down to .8% growth,” he said. “Forsyth, y’all came down from an anemic 8% growth down to a slowed 3% growth. Y’all keep chugging on. People like it up here.”

Housing numbers

To keep up with the county’s growth, homebuilders have been busy in Forsyth County since the economic downturn a decade ago, though Shiver pointed out that homes are now being built at a slower rate, even as prices climb. He said that would cause issues for first-time home buyers.

“This is a challenge, not just here in Forsyth County but across the nation,” Shiver said. “Everybody has gotten a whole lot more worried about building homes. They want to wait until that demand is really there before they build homes.

“If you’re a homeowner, that’s great because you see what home prices are doing, but if you’re wanting to buy a home … the challenge of becoming a homeowner is greater than it was when many of us in the room became homeowners.”

Changing retail

Like the housing industry, retail businesses have been shaken up in recent years as e-commerce has grown in popularity. Shiver said retailers have had to be creative to fight the trend.

“One of the things that Target has very wildly done in the last year is they basically said, ‘Hmm, Amazon is really [getting ahead] trying to move to this same-day delivery or one-day delivery type of thing, but we’re Target – we have a warehouse in every community called a store. Maybe we start doing deliveries out of stores to people’s homes to compete with Amazon,’” he said.

Shiver said a possible unintended consequence would mean more delivery trucks on the road and in neighborhoods to get the products to customers.

Challenges

Along with the trade war with China, Shiver said there are a number of lingering issues that could impact the economy, including slowing global growth, policy mistakes, tensions with Iran and the coming 2020 election, as a potential new president would mean a shift in economic policy.

“It’s a lot of uncertainty out there, and where the election goes, and quite honestly what damage we do to ourselves during this cycle, will be interesting in terms of where expectations go going forward,” he said. “Hopefully, we get to the other side in a positive manner, and if we do, honestly, right now, no big imbalances.”