Strategies for the new year: Progress demands metro/state unity

“There was in the South an excitement about the early depression years of the 1930s which ameliorated the harshness of them. There was a mighty surge of discussion, debate, self-examination, confession and release.”

Ralph McGill, from “The South and the Southerner”

The coming year has one big advantage: It won’t be 2009.

And, yes, we successfully avoided the “D” word: Depression, that is.

The challenges of 2010 will be many, and they will test us in a manner not seen in generations — that much is for certain.

Thank goodness that 2009 has but four days remaining. The most liberal of Democrats and the most conservative of Republicans are likely to agree on that point, if precious little else.

The dawn of a new year will provide ample opportunities for all of us to agree, disagree or, more importantly, find common ground. How well we achieve the latter goal will determine to a hefty degree how much Atlanta and our state shall accomplish in 2010. And we’ve got some big tasks to work on. To make the most possible headway next year, the Atlanta region and Georgia should collectively swear or affirm to march into 2010 as one state, united by a common interest in bettering the future for all of us.

By so doing, we’ll get the strongest start toward beating the problems that so bedeviled us throughout 2009. Seeding the fields of economic recovery will take long, arduous effort that will stretch across 2010. It is necessary work. We must do it, and do it well.

Before attacking problems of the magnitude that this recession has blown across our state, it helps to know what we’re up against.

Here are a few examples:

In November 2008, Georgia’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 7.1 percent. The withering effects of economic downturn had, even then, driven Georgia’s jobless rate higher than the national average of 6.8 percent. The pain only worsened as 2009 moved along. Last month, unemployment in our state reached 10.2 percent, which means about a half-million workers lacked jobs.

Other, equally daunting statistics are in abundance during this time of travail for our nation and world. Georgia leads the nation in failed banks, a product of the backwash of bad loans and collapsed real estate deals that ravaged the construction sector, which had been a keystone of our regional economy. We could highlight other data, but the picture is easy to see. Times have been beyond tough; terrible, even.

As 2009 lurches to an end, there are encouraging signs that can help us tough out 2010 and what will be a long march toward the future’s hopeful light. It’s heartening to hear, for example, that we may now be standing in the deepest part of the economic muck that has inundated Georgia’s economy. At its 2010 economic outlook luncheon earlier this month, Robert T. Sumichrast, dean of the University of Georgia’s Terry College of Business, predicted that the recovery’s start was at hand, but that it would not proceed smoothly along an upward trajectory. Much like the United States as a whole, “our state’s recovery will also be slow and uneven, but it will be sustained.”

If that sounds like lukewarm news at best, consider this insight from David Wyss, chief economist at Standard & Poor’s, who also spoke at the UGA event. Wyss dryly noted that, “A [recession’s] bottom is not defined by things improving, it’s defined by things not getting worse.”

Given the onslaught of bad economic news we’ve faced this year, we’ll take things not continuing to worsen as being a solid first step out of the dank basement that has encircled us.

Atlanta and Georgia will need to take many more steps and reach many more decisions on public policy matters of great import in 2010. Governmental budget deficits measured in the tens of millions or hundreds of millions of dollars will force hard choices by elected officials. They must also be smart choices to help fuel recovery.

At stake is the very future of Georgia and the South, a state and region that have smartly used low taxes and other incentives to lure businesses and the growth they fuel. We must continue to make smart investments in areas such as work-force training and education in general if we’re to keep our doors open to economic development as recovery progresses. Doing so requires tough, innovative, look-ahead thinking.

We can make the right choices for all of Georgia if we lay aside for now our partisan rivalries, speak truth to each other, and join in making the short-term sacrifices and long-term strategic wagers that will lead us back to times of plenty.

Andre Jackson, for the Editorial Board

In coming weeks and months, we will look at major issues Atlanta must address in order to move forward as the economy recovers. Look for the desgination "Atlanta Forward," which will identify these discussions.