Metro Albany GDP up

Photo by Casey Dixon

Photo by Casey Dixon

ALBANY, Ga. -- Statistics released this week by the Bureau of Economic Analysis show that, despite a painful economic recession and record unemployment, the Albany Metropolitan Statistical Area's industrial production grew throughout the last decade.

According to the statistics from the BEA, which is an arm of the U.S. Department of Commerce, metro Albany total industrial gross domestic product topped out at $4.9 billion for 2009 -- the most recent year data was available.

That figure was up 0.3 percent, or $15 million, from 2008.

It may seem like a paradox to have industrial production grow during a recession -- especially given the loss of local industrial manufacturers like Merck, Bobs Candies and Cooper Tire & Rubber -- but what it shows is that industries who have survived the recession have become "lean and mean," Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission President Ted Clem said.

"When you look at something at GDP, that's a measurement of production and total economic output of the community, and our tendency is to look at the fact that we've lossed 'x' amount of jobs from the manufacturing sector. Well, yes, but productivity remains," Clem said. "So what you're seeing in the Albany market is the same thing you're seeing all over the country. There's a transition from an industrial-type economy to a more service economy, meaning that's where the jobs are now."

One reality that likely isn't fully shown in the statistics is the impact the loss Cooper had on the community's GDP. The statistics end in 2009, which is about the time Cooper was winding down production and shutting its doors.

But regardless, the losses experienced in the Albany industrial market have apparently been offset by some of the area's growing industrial sectors -- namely food production and military/defense sectors.

According to the data, the GDP attributed to federal military units in the Albany MSA have grown by almost 26 percent between 2001 and 2008 -- the last year that data was available -- topping out at $68 million in 2008.

That figure is likely to rise significantly as the U.S. Marine Corps Maintenance Center has seen an influx of work during the Corps' transition from operations in Iraq to Afghanistan since 2008 and MCLB-Albany's growth on both the green energy and defense contracting fronts.

"I think the one thing that has really helped, especially over the last five to six years, has been the growth at MCLB," Clem said.

One area where there was significant decline was in the retail trade industry.

While overall retail trade in the metro area was up between 2001 and the end of 2009 by 13.5 percent, it hit a high-water-mark in 2006, when retail trade crested at $401 million.

Since that time, the retail trade sector has been in steady decline, dropping by almost 10 percent between 2006 and December 2009, according to the federal numbers.

"I think what we've seen is that in the past decade there has probably never seen a greater expansion throughout the country for retail industry. And what you're starting to see in the latter part of the decade is retailers expanding into new markets, i.e. smalltown America. The retail market in Southwest Georgia has been fragmented by retailers branching out into new areas in smaller cities and towns," Clem said.

In terms of jobs, the study doesn't have data related to unemployment, although its generally known that that the latter part of the decade saw the loss of millions of jobs across the country and the Albany MSA wasn't spared.

As of January 2011, the unemployment rate for Albany was 10.8 percent, which was higher than both the state and national averages.

But one thing the data may suggest is that local industry has managed to survive the recession despite the layoffs and could be further evidence of a largely jobless recovery.

"One thing businesses have learned is that the key to survival in a recession is to become lean and mean and the companies who survived are lean and mean ... and employees have worked to be more productive to hopefully avoid being laid off, so it's helped with productivity," Clem said.

At the state level, Georgia's GDP dipped in 2009 by 2.1 percent from 2008, ending the year at $393 billion. The state trend mirrors the national trend, as the U.S. GDP was also down from 2008 by almost 1.7 percent, at $14 trillion.