This Labor Day, jobs, housing rising in Cobb

Roger Tutterow
Roger Tutterow

KENNESAW, Ga. (Sep 7, 2015) — Marietta and most of Cobb County this Labor Day weekend are in the midst of an economic boom, which comes with both good and not-so-good news.

The good news is that just about anybody who wants a job can get one, says Roger Tutterow, professor of economics and director of the Econometric Center at Kennesaw State University.

The bad news — sort of — is that so much building has been going on that contractors are having a hard time finding construction workers and other skilled help to meet demand for new homes and businesses.

Demand also has been red hot for what car dealers would call “pre-owned” homes.

Prices for new and resale homes have soared to all-time highs, but Tutterow isn’t sure the boom can continue much longer. And though homes new and used have been selling fast, many within a day or so after going on the market, he said sales have been and will continue to be more brisk in some areas than others. The hottest housing markets have been in areas with the best-rated schools.

Steve Palm, owner of Smart Real Estate Data and a long-time market expert in the Atlanta area, thinks home prices have peaked.

“People’s incomes are not going up that much,” he says, “so home prices will not go up because the demand for higher-priced homes will not exist.”

But the boom is far from going bust. Those driving the roads of Cobb will see big earthmovers digging foundations and old houses — many in very good condition — being torn down to be replaced by $850,000 mansions.

“As the price gets higher for new construction, re-sales gain market share,” Palm says.

From the Marietta Square to east Cobb to Kennesaw and Smyrna, sales are still red hot. In 1998, the average resale went for $149,777 and new homes fetched $186,115. Now, the average re-sale goes for $250,870 and a brand new home can be had for $404,262, Palm says.

And the experts say this has been a boom in more ways than one.

Take jobs. In December 2007, Cobb’s employment stood at 370,197, with 17,147 people looking unsuccessfully for jobs, and the unemployment rate at a mere 4.4 percent, according to Sam Hall of the Georgia Department of Labor.

In Marietta, the jobless rate stood at 4.5 percent, with 36,243 people working and 1,721 looking. Then the bottom fell out of the economy everywhere.

Unemployment began a steady rise, peaking at 9.8 percent in Cobb County in October of 2009, according to the Federal Reserve’s economic data.

Building came to a halt. All businesses such as restaurants began to suffer, as did banks that still are careful about making loans. Many banks went belly up. And the recovery has been slow and painful.

But many thousands of once-hopeless people have found jobs. And many thousands have moved to Cobb or now commute to Marietta and other cities in the county from Midtown, Virginia-Highlands and downtown, says Brooks Mathis, senior vice president of economic development of the Cobb Chamber.

“Our last office tower was built in 2005,” he said. “But we have some nice new office buildings coming out of the ground now. And we have two large stadiums being built, one in Cobb for the Braves, which is keeping demand strong for skilled labor.”

In addition, “we’re seeing a lot of people move to Cobb, including young professionals, because they know they can have a nicer life for less money. And we’re seeing a big jump in entrepreneurship. Look at The Elf on the Shelf, now headquartered in a tall building in Riverwood. They started 10 or so years ago with a mother and twin sisters who went to McEachern (High School).”

Now the company has about 60 employees.

“We have the momentum going,” he said. “If you’re in economic development, it’s great to see dirt moving, cranes, other machinery.”

Cobb Commission Chairman Tim Lee agrees that economically, things are looking up. “The growth in our tax digest and the progress we are making in Cobb County is a good sign. As the county continues to recover and get back to pre-recession economic levels, I’m encouraged by activity in our community.”

Lee said in the past four years Cobb has seen more than $2 billion of investment and 13,000 jobs created or retained.

KSU’s Tutterow said “historically, Lockheed was the driver of the economy. Now we have more employers. What’s remarkable is that 55 percent of employed residents of Cobb work in Cobb,” about twice what it is in Fulton County.

“Labor markets are starting to feel normal again,” he said. “In Georgia and metro Atlanta we lost more jobs than the national average proportionately. Georgia was among the dozen states with the most job loss. Now we’re among the dozen fastest growing in the union.”

During the worst of the Great Recession, “many people dropped out of the labor force,” he said. “Now more people are working than at any time in our history.”

Even if home prices have peaked, there will still be a lot of movement because of changing demographics, Tutterow said.

“Baby boomers are moving well into their 60s and there are lots of empty nesters who want to downsize,” he said. “And younger people need more space. More white collar and blue collar jobs are coming to Cobb, attracting people from other metro counties.

“We have finally reached the point where we have more people working than before the recession,” he said. “That was a big watershed when we surpassed pre-recession employment levels.”

Hall of the Labor Department sums it up this way: “It’s just a heck of a lot better, but it’s been a heck of a ride.”

-The Marietta Daily Journal