March 1, 2013

Headed for a rebound?

Dalton’s economic decline almost halted in 2011

Charles Oliver
charlesoliver@daltoncitizen.com

— The Metro Dalton economy remained basically flat in 2011, following two years of steep declines, according to the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis.

Metro Dalton includes Whitfield and Murray counties.

A bureau report on gross domestic product (GDP) in each of the nation’s 366 metropolitan areas found the Dalton metro region slipped 0.2 percent in 2011, the latest year for which data were available, after adjusting for inflation.

Dalton’s real GDP fell 12.1 percent in 2009 and 4.1 percent in 2010.

Dalton Mayor David Pennington said those numbers track with anecdotal evidence he has heard from local business leaders.

“We felt like we had finally bottomed out in 2011, and 2012 should show somewhat of an increase,” he said.

Greater Dalton Chamber of Commerce President Brian Anderson said the trend does seem hopeful.

“I haven’t seen the report yet, but it sounds like the trend line is improving,” said Anderson. “There are indications that new housing starts are up nationally, and that means more demand for carpet, which should benefit our local companies. And some people who lost their jobs have been re-employed by some of those companies. But our unemployment rate remains at 11 percent. They are watching everything they spend, and that’s a drag on local businesses that depend on that spending.”

Dalton’s real GDP remained 16 percent below its 2008 level in 2011.

“We aren’t having a lot of sunny days. The skies are still full of clouds, though there are some silver linings,” Anderson said.

Dalton trailed the national average of 3.1 percent real GDP growth for all of the nation’s metro areas in 2011. But it did outperform some of the smaller metro areas in Georgia that local officials use as benchmarks for Greater Dalton.

For instance, Rome’s real GDP dropped 1 percent in 2011, while Valdosta’s real GDP fell 0.4 percent.

On the other hand, real GDP rose 3.5 percent in Cleveland, Tenn., in 2011. In fact, Cleveland’s economy is actually slightly larger than it was in 2008.

“I’m not surprised that Cleveland is doing well. They’ve had a lot of things happen up there, and they are close to Chattanooga and can feed off some of the things going on there, too,” said Larry Johnson, associate professor of economics and interim dean of the business school at Dalton State College.

In recent years, Cleveland and Chattanooga have landed a number of large projects, including a Volkswagen plant, an Amazon distribution center and a new Whirlpool plant.

Anderson said one of the things that has held the Greater Dalton area back is the lack of large developable pieces of property to place such projects on.

“We developed (the Carbondale Business Park) to develop that hook. We’ve got to show companies we’ve got a ready-made place for you to build. We’ve gotten into that game, but it’s one that other people have been in for quite some time,” Anderson said.

Pennington said state tax policy has also held the area back.

“One big thing that separates us from Cleveland is that they don’t have a state income tax,” he said.