The South is recovering slowly from the economic recession, and job growth is expected to increase slightly in the coming year, according to a regional economic development expert.
The South added some 600,000 jobs in 2011, according to Ted Abernathy, executive director of the Southern Growth Policies Board, which provides economic development research and advice to 13 Southern states. The manufacturing base was up, and housing prices bottomed out. The GDP was up in metro areas, but last year also was a record year for agricultural production and crop products, Abernathy said.
The upward trend likely will continue, according to Abernathy. Job growth is expected to increase 1 to 2 percent in the coming year, with health and education leading the way. State and local government experienced job losses during the past year, but those are slowing down now, Abernathy said.
Abernathy will expand on his economic forecast for the South during the keynote address at the Association’s 2012 Annual Meeting on Hilton Head Island.
“There is not just one economy in the South,” Abernathy said. A few Southern states have avoided the economic crunch and have budget surpluses. South Carolina, however, has not been immune to the financial crisis. With an economy heavily reliant on manufacturing, South Carolina and other East Coast states are more closely tied to Europe and connected to its economic crisis, Abernathy explained.
Still, local leaders have the ability to shape their economy and control the ease and speed of doing business. Local leaders can control their own regulatory environment, educational offerings and quality of life – all of which are important considerations for businesses, he said.
“In this rapidly changing global economy, leaders must understand the importance of education – not only K-12, but also lifelong personal education,” Abernathy said. “No longer can employees expect to work at a job until they retire. These days, it’s far more likely for employees to get into a pattern of working somewhere a few years, then retraining and working at another job.”
Predictions show that in 10-20 years, 80 percent of jobs available will be unlike anything existing today, Abernathy said. To keep up, people need to be prepared to retrain and re-educate themselves, and local leaders need to be on board to provide access to that education.
The focus of Abernathy’s 32-year career in economic development has included work for cities, counties, regions and the private sector. For the past three years, Abernathy has been executive director of the Southern Growth Policies Board, which specializes in the areas of technology and innovation, globalization, talent, civic engagement, cluster development, collaboration and leadership.
The Southern Growth Policies Board is a nonpartisan public policy think tank based in Research Triangle Park, N.C. Through its unique public-private partnership of governors, legislators, business and academic leaders and the economic- and community-development sectors, the Board develops new regional strategies for economic development and identifies best practices to facilitate action.