Looking ahead 2010: Economy

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, December 29, 2009

It’s likely no one could have predicted the economic downturn that took place in 2009.

So, when it comes to looking ahead, it’s also not an easy task.

After a year where housing sales and sales tax revenues declined significantly, unemployment numbers soared and proration hit a historic-high for state school systems — a year unlike any other — 2010 has a tough act to follow.

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While the nation as a whole suffered in a harsh economic climate, Pike County remained fairly steady in 2009.

With unemployment numbers high across the country, Pike County has still managed to keep its rates lower than national and state averages through most of the year.

Local economist Judson Edwards and President of the Pike County Economic Development Corporation Marsha Gaylard attribute that mainly to the diversity of local industry.

“I’ve always said one of the biggest advantages that we have is we have a very diverse industrial base,” Gaylard said. “We’re not totally dependent on any one industry sector.”

Those industries include Troy University, which Edwards said has contributed largely to the county’s steadiness.

“One of the influences we talk about all the time is the steadying influence of the university,” Edwards said.

But while Pike County has been blessed, in comparison, it certainly has not been completely immune to economic hardships.

City and county governments, local school systems and realtors can attest to that well.

Both governments and school systems, which depend on sales tax revenues largely for income, have had to tighten their belts after some of the highest drops in sales tax collections this year.

Overall, Troy, Brundidge and the Pike County Commission all finished the year in the black, but it wasn’t an easy task, especially for the commission, which already is working to pay back a debt that once was as high as $10 million.

School systems have had to deal with these same sales tax losses, on top of proration that was the highest Alabama’s seen in 48 years.

Luckily, both Pike County and Troy City Schools had reserve funds to draw from, keeping them in better shape than many through the state.

The county’s housing market has also managed to do better than the rest of the state, but that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s done well.

Glancing to 2010, Edwards said his biggest concern is inflation.

“I think that’s going to be a major issue for the coming year,” Edwards said. “I think for prices in general, we’re going to see an increase.”

Edwards said with the likelihood the government will be trying to secure a steady banking industry, prices may be on the rise.

“It’s the unpredictability of inflation that’s a concern,” Edwards said.

Higher prices, coupled with no cost of living increases, could be more bad news, he said.

“Another thing that’s happened, is we haven’t seen a high increase in salaries. Having the ability to give cost of living raises to keep up with inflation is going to be a tough situation for us,” Edwards said.

Edwards said another challenge will be building the jobs to climb out of unemployment.

“Where will these new jobs come from?” Edwards said.

With banking industries tightening, Edwards said it may be hard for new business developments to grow.

Still, the addition of CGI, Troy’s newest industry, should help locally with unemployment.

“We’re extremely fortunate to get CGI and have some of our local industries expand and add jobs in an economy like this,” Gaylard said. “That is a tremendous asset to our economy.”

Gaylard said she has no predictions for 2010’s economy, but she does continue to look to the future for growth.

“What we do is always look to the future. Our governmental leaders have looked to the future in the past, and instead of being dependent on one industry, we diversify,” Gaylard said. “We’re going to continue that.”

Gaylard said recently Troy’s Industrial Park was approved as a shovel-ready site, which could be used for recruitment in Troy.

Gaylard said retail recruitment is another plan of economic developers in 2010.

“Even in a bad economy like this, we’ve identified some other types of retail that are expanding and are still successful,” Gaylard said. “There are not a lot of retail-type businesses out there, but we’re going to be actively recruiting some more retail.”

Even with uncertainty of where all jobs will come from, Edwards said he believes unemployment will continue to decline in 2010.

“I think Pike County and university towns in general will be the first to move from these unemployment situations,” Edwards said. “I think 2010 will be a better year for us, but I’m worried more about the bigger-picture economy. Our losses are becoming smaller it seems.”