Chamber Presents Annual Economic Summit: Lowndes by the Numbers

Staff Report From Valdosta CEO

Monday, April 29th, 2013

The words “teamwork” and “collaboration” echoed throughout the day from presenters, as well as from the diversified audience of community leaders at the Chamber's 2013 Economic Summit, which was presented by VSU's Langdale College of Business and by co-sponsors, Chartwells and First Federal Savings and Loan. Dr. Attila Cseh opened the program with the third edition of Lowndes County by the Numbers.

The report compares Lowndes County to 14 peer and aspirant communities:

  • Warren, KY (Bowling Green)
  • Clarke, GA (Athens)
  • Houston, GA (Warner Robins)
  • Montgomery, TN (Clarksville)
  • Houston, AL (Dothan)
  • Ouachita, LA (Monroe)
  • Lee, AL (Auburn)
  • Morgan, AL (Decatur)
  • Forrest, MS (Hattiesburg)
  • Nash, NC (Nashville)
  • Rapides, LA (Alexandria)
  • Floyd, GA (Rome)
  • Florence, SC (Florence)
  • Wayne, NC (Goldsboro)

The first half of the 2013 Lowndes County by the Numbers report examined the demographic makeup of the Lowndes community and its workforce. Lowndes County’s community growth is no secret. However, despite the area’s growing numbers, one of the most alarming figures found in the report revealed that Lowndes County ranked 13th among its peers with a poverty rate of 27.1 percent. Dr. Cseh explained to the audience that college towns normally have a higher poverty rate, but show much potential for improvement as college and university students begin their careers after graduation.

The second half of Dr. Cseh’s report compared Lowndes County’s mix of jobs, income levels and unemployment rates to those of its peers. The effects of the Great Recession are apparent in our steep decline of private sector jobs dating back to 2007 and downward trend of median household income since 2008. In 2007, Lowndes County was fast approaching 40,000 private sector employees. In 2011, it slipped into 9th place among peers with 34,712 private sector employees. Median household income has remained constant for the United States and peer communities, but for Lowndes County the rate has declined 10.2 percent since 2009 from $38,143 to $34,252 in 2011.

Dr. Cseh made it a point to paint an even clearer picture of our current economic situation when he provided the following graphs, showing our median household income and average weekly wage adjusted for inflation. He went on to explain that our unemployment rate of 9.3 percent does not account for the duration of unemployment, the discouraged workers or the underemployed. Lowndes County is showing improvements in its share of knowledge based jobs and in the average weekly wage of the knowledge based sector. The 11 people and job indicators used in the Lowndes County by the Numbers report ranks Lowndes County 11th among peer and aspirant communities.

A group discussion allowed attendees an opportunity to explore the strengths, weakness, opportunities, threats and trends of the community. The room was later tasked with identifying ideas for increasing average weekly wage and retaining college and university graduates. Summit participants shared many ideas during this portion of the program, but the idea of the community establishing a business incubator, focusing more attention on jobs and employers that match graduates’ areas of study was the major focus.

Additionally, Industrial Authority Executive Director Andrea Schruijer, Chamber President Myrna Ballard, VSU President William McKinney and WGTC President Dr. Ray Perren participated in a panel discussion based on the impact of higher education on regional economic development. Schuijer shared that Lowndes County is not only competing against Georgia communities for new industries, but globally as well. Ballard noted that it is the mix of jobs that matters, emphasizing the importance of growing local jobs for high school graduates, college students and university graduates. President McKinney discussed the Employer-Educator Compact and encouraged the community to take advantage of the incredible amount of intellectual capital available at VSU. Dr. Ray Perren discussed high job placement rate at Wiregrass Georgia Technical College and the college’s ability to adapt programs based on changes in technology. Lowndes County Commission Chairman Bill Slaughter and Mayor John Gayle presented a unified front as they expressed their concerns for educating our students and provided examples of what we can do as a community to help students find gainful employment.