State economy weathering 'headwinds'

ATLANTA - Georgia's economy was strong during the first half of this year despite rising oil prices and a housing slowdown, a Georgia State University economist said Wednesday.

More than 50,000 jobs were created in the state between January and the end of June - well above the 30,000 that were generated during the last half of 2005, Rajeev Dhawan, director of the Economic Forecasting Center at Georgia State University, reported in his quarterly economic forecast.

"This is remarkable considering that the Georgia economy is weathering some strong headwinds,'' the report said.

The strongest growth occurred in heath care, which generated 7,500 jobs during the first half of the year, and tourism, aided by the convention business that was diverted to Atlanta from New Orleans following Hurricane Katrina a year ago.

"The Sugar Bowl is going back there,'' said Dhawan, referring to one of college football's premier post-season games usually played in New Orleans. "But the conventions are still coming to Atlanta.''

Dhawan also cited last November's opening of the Georgia Aquarium in downtown Atlanta, which is about to surpass 3 million visitors well ahead of expectations.

On the other end of the scale, technology jobs grew only slightly in the second quarter of this year. However, the report said that could be the first sign of an impending turnaround after several years of job losses in that sector.

Manufacturing jobs continued to decline during the last year, no surprise considering the increasing dominance of service industries in the economy.

While Georgia has added 7,000 construction jobs during the last year, housing starts are beginning

to fall because

of rising interest rates, the

report said.

Dhawan said much of the increase in residential construction was due to a condominium building boom in Atlanta's Midtown and Buckhead neighborhoods, which is beginning to taper off.

"How many condo projects can Buckhead take?'' he said.

Housing permits in Gwinnett County rose by 12 percent during the first half of the year, mostly because of an unusual surge of 700 permits for multifamily housing, the largest six-month increase in more than

four years.

However, higher long-term interest rates are expected to halt the growth trend later this year, and Dhawan's forecast calls for a decrease in housing permits throughout the core metro-Atlanta counties next year and in 2008.

The report calls for job growth statewide to taper off slightly during the last half of this year, resulting in an expected gain of 91,100 jobs for all of 2006.

Dhawan predicts that only 69,400 jobs will be generated in Georgia next year but that job growth will bounce back to 87,000 new jobs in 2008.