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CITY TALK: Local jobs estimates suggest continued growth

The latest estimates from the Georgia Department of Labor suggest that Savannah’s employment boom is continuing.

According to the data, the Savannah metropolitan statistical area (Chatham, Effingham and Bryan counties) had 179,700 payroll jobs in April. That’s 3,900 more jobs than in April 2016, a 2.2 percent increase.

The year-over-year increase was about twice the likely rate of population growth.

Let me add, as readers have recommended after previous columns about the area job market, that self-employed workers do not show up in the payroll job estimates. It’s also worth adding that some workers might have more than one payroll position.

So the numbers alone don’t give us a full picture of the significant contingent of freelancers and independent contractors, but the numbers do give us clear benchmarks for comparisons with previous months and years.

Not surprisingly, the leisure and hospitality sector added about one-third (1,200) of the new jobs over the past year. Many of those positions probably pay less than a living wage, but it’s also true that many service sector workers get good tips, live fulfilled lives and have opportunities for advancement.

I hope we’ll continue to see public concern about wages in tourism-related businesses, but we need to avoid sweeping generalizations.

The leisure and hospitality sector accounts for about 15.5 percent of payroll positions in the Savannah metro area, while leisure and hospitality accounts for about 10.8 percent of payroll jobs statewide. That’s a significant gap, but the numbers aren’t surprising given Savannah’s attractiveness as a destination.

The Georgia Department of Labor’s most recent estimates also suggest solid growth over the past year in government employment, in professional services and in education and health services.

According to the estimates, employment in several sectors stagnated or declined slightly over the past year, but that could be statistical noise. Trends should become clearer in future releases.

A decade ago, we were also seeing robust employment growth. The Savannah metro-area job market seemed robust in spring 2007 before stagnating and then deteriorating through the housing bust, financial crisis and deep recession.

In April 2007, the Savannah metro area had 162,200 payroll jobs. So, yes, we have been seeing rapid job growth in the past couple of years, but the current estimate of 179,700 represents an increase of less than 11 percent over the last decade.

In other words, we are close to where we might have been if the economy had maintained a slow, steady pace instead of jumping on a roller coaster.

Should we be bracing for the kind of steep economic decline that began in late 2007?

In 2007, the local housing bubble was continuing to inflate. Today’s real estate market might be a little overheated in some areas, but the inventory numbers are in line with long-term trends, and we have not been adding new housing units at an unsustainable pace as we were early in this century.

Historical patterns of economic expansions suggest that the United States will likely fall into recession within the next few years, but that eventual recession probably won’t crush dreams and bankrupt businesses like the last one did.

If I’m right in these predictions — and that’s a big “if” — then Savannah-area residents might have to adjust to an extended run of economic and population growth, with all of its attendant benefits and challenges.

What’s next for Savannah Serves?

On Thursday, Savannah City Council indefinitely tabled the proposed funding mechanism for the ambassadorial program Savannah Serves. The plan would have added a 25-cent fee to most sales tax-eligible transactions in the busiest portions of the Historic District.

As Eric Curl reported in this newspaper on Friday, the funding scheme was dropped after “opposition from businesses and questions about the legality of the proposal” following inquiries to the Georgia Attorney General’s office.

In 2014, after I began raising questions about the economic implications and even the legality of the proposed fee, I got a lot of blowback from Savannah Serves supporters who focused their arguments on the need for the program rather than on the substance of my arguments about funding.

Now that the deeply problematic and probably illegal fee is off the table, we can debate the merits of Savannah Serves and decide as a community how, or if, to fund it.

In last Tuesday’s column, I encouraged readers to attend upcoming public meetings about Savannah Serves, but those meetings have been canceled.

City Talk appears every Tuesday and Sunday. Bill Dawers can be reached via billdawers@comcast.net. Send mail to 10 E. 32nd St., Savannah, Ga. 31401.

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