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City Talk: July employment estimates show continued strength of area economy

According to the estimates recently released by the Georgia Department of Labor, the Savannah metro area added 4,300 nonfarm payroll jobs between July 2017 and July 2017. That increase of 2.4 percent is markedly faster than the rate of population growth.

We have been adding jobs relatively rapidly for several years, and there are few signs that the robust pace of hiring will decline soon.

Over the year, the leisure and hospitality sector added 1,900 jobs, but other sectors also saw significant gains, including education and health services (600 additional jobs), professional and business services (300 additional jobs) and government (900 additional jobs).

The Savannah metro area (Chatham, Effingham and Bryan counties) had 719 initial applications for unemployment insurance in July, down significantly from the 841 filings in July 2017.

The metro area unemployment rate was 4.7 percent in July, down from 5.4 percent a year earlier. We are seeing gradual declines in the unemployment rate even as the local labor force has been growing.

In an upcoming column, I’ll compare the estimates of our leisure and hospitality employment to other cities in the region. I have made similar comparisons in past columns, but I should run some numbers again since there continues to be a great deal of concern that our local economy is becoming overly reliant on tourism.

But it’s also worth keeping in mind that we have been seeing steady employment gains in a variety of sectors. As I have noted previously, the current pace of hiring probably is not sustainable, but the numbers have been stronger for a longer stretch than I would have predicted.

City expands design work on Bay Street

As reported last week in this newspaper, Savannah city officials have extended the proposed streetscape work on Bay Street to include the blocks between Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard and Warner Street, which runs along the Springfield Canal.

Previously, the scope of the project spearheaded by the design firm EDSA was limited to Broughton, Bay and River streets between MLK Boulevard and East Broad Street.

The extension of the work to Warner Street makes good sense for a variety of reasons.

West Bay Street is a key gateway to the city, but those blocks immediately west of MLK have little visual appeal.

There are few street trees along that stretch of Bay, and some features are downright ugly, like the chain link security fence guarding the post office parking lot. A little design work will go a long way to beautify that stretch of road.

More importantly, maybe we can make that portion of Bay feel a little less like a “road” and a little more like a “street.”

Yamacraw Village, one of the largest population centers near the Landmark Historic District, lies along the south side of that stretch of West Bay Street, but it feels disconnected from the north side. Sure, there are sidewalks and crosswalks, but none of them feel particularly safe.

Like the rest of Bay Street, the stretch between Warner Street and MLK is also unsafe for cyclists.

No doubt there are Yamacraw residents who work downtown who face these obstacles daily.

The eventual redesign might also bring more attention to important sites and businesses in the area.

First Bryan Baptist Church is one of the most historic houses of worship in the city, but few would realize that as they’re driving along Bay Street. The Yamacraw Square Public Art Park, designed by artist Jerome Meadows, needs significant repairs.

Along Indian Street north of Bay Street, Service Brewing Company and Ghost Coast Distillery have become important destinations. The area is also home to SCAD buildings, a hotel, other businesses and an apartment building. More development is on the way.

The Bay Street problem boils down to balancing the various interests of residents, businesses and commuters. The addition of street trees and other esthetic elements might be welcomed by all those constituencies, but EDSA’s proposals could generate controversy.

All along Bay Street, including the areas that EDSA previously studied and the long stretch west of viaduct, we have historically made the decision to emphasize the needs of commuters and commercial trucks more than the needs of residents and nearby businesses.

EDSA’s previous proposals for Bay Street include should create a better pedestrian environment, and the designers even suggested that we should have a long-term goal – more aspirational than practical – of reducing the traffic volume and street width.

It will be interesting to see if the consulting firm makes similar suggestions for this latest area added to the scope of work.

EDSA will present preliminary design options on Oct. 10 at the Coastal Georgia Center.

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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