Credentials and Background
Q: Could you share a brief overview of your educational background and career path?
A: We farmed when I was young, so I started with a bachelor’s in agriculture business and economics from Auburn University. I went on to get an MBA at Bellarmine University in Louisville, a master’s in economics from the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, and a Ph.D. in economics from Auburn University. I also have an international trade certification from the American University of Paris.
After I finished my Ph.D. I went to work for Triumph Motorcycles, a British company whose North American headquarters was in Newnan, Georgia. I focused mostly on litigation analysis and protecting the company through risk management using economic analysis tools.
Q: What attracted you to the field of economics?
A: Economics interested me because it’s a social science where you look at people’s behavior and model it using math. That combination of learning why people do what they do, why they spend what they spend, and why they make those decisions fascinated me.
Q: Why did you choose to relocate to metro Atlanta, and what drew you to the Metro Atlanta Chamber?
A: I made the move to challenge myself. I had become well-known in Florida; I gave a lot of speeches and was involved in state and local policy analysis while also teaching economics as a faculty member at Florida State University. And after working at the Florida Chamber Foundation for many years, I was also aware of and admired the way Georgia handled its economic development strategy.
I was drawn to the Metro Atlanta Chamber for a number of reasons – including the breadth of companies investing in the chamber and the strength of the staff here, especially the economic development team. I got even more excited about the opportunity after I had a chance to meet with 2022 MAC Board Chair and President of the Atlanta Fed, Dr. Raphael Bostic. I had worked a bit with the Atlanta Fed when I was in Florida and appreciated the connections the chamber had with that organization and so many others. But what really hooked me was the fact that MAC is the only regional or state chamber in the country that has a full-time Chief Economist. I thought it would be a good spot for me and so far, it has been.
Q: In your recent speech at Gwinnett Chamber of Commerce, you said that from 2018-2022, metro Atlanta has accounted for 69.2 percent of job growth in the state. What aspects of its economic strategy have fueled this incredible growth?
A: I’ve been watching Georgia’s economy for a while now, and the consistency of the state’s economic development programs is incredibly impressive. The wins the state has secured, in a lot of cases, Florida just couldn’t compete. Georgia’s concerted efforts to diversify its economy have resulted in steady growth of high-wage jobs.
Much of that growth has been fueled by metro Atlanta. This region’s economy has grown faster than that of the U.S. economy and peer cities like Charlotte, Dallas, Tampa, Greenville, Spartanburg, and Birmingham. There are two reasons behind that growth, in addition to consistent economic development —a robust and diverse talent base and Atlanta’s transportation system. Those are two critical factors companies consider when deciding whether to relocate or expand to a new market.
Q: Is this a sustainable trajectory? Do you think we’re going to continue growing faster than the regions around us?
A: Yes, if the Georgia legislature continues the economic development programs it has put in place and continues to expand the strong talent pipelines the state has built. You also can’t discount the global connectivity we have thanks to Hartsfield Jackson Airport. One thing companies often look for is the number of direct flights they can put their people on. Given that 80 percent of the entire U.S. is within a 2-hour flight from Atlanta — that’s a huge draw for a lot of companies.
Q: From April through June of this year, the U.S. economy grew at an annual rate of 2.4%—a faster pace than many economists anticipated. What is behind this growth on a national scale? Is metro Atlanta’s growth outpacing the nation’s?
A: It wasn’t that long ago when many economists were forecasting an upcoming recession. Earlier this month, the Atlanta Fed projected growth for the U.S.’s next quarter at 5.1 percent. They’re still expecting strong economic growth with strong hiring and consumer spending, although that may slow down. But right now, with the job market as strong as it is and companies continuing to hire, we should continue to see growth over the next several months.
Q: For 24 consecutive months, metro Atlanta’s jobless rate has been below 4%—virtual full employment—what’s next? What kinds of challenges or opportunities might the region face?
A: The unemployment rate has been low and there are a lot of job openings, which tells us that there are a lot of open jobs still not being filled. It’s also a signal of the skills gap that Georgia faces. This means that sometimes companies work very hard to find workers but are unable to find qualified applicants. At the same time, people looking for jobs might not have the skills employers want, which tells us we can still improve upon our region’s workforce development and talent pipelines. I’m excited about MAC’s work to address these issues through a variety of talent-focused initiatives.
In some cases, you’ll see labor hoarding, which is where companies continue hiring qualified people even if they think the economy may soften. They’d rather err on the side of hiring qualified talent now than risk a labor shortage. I do think unemployment rates will still stay low, although not as low as the rates we are seeing now.
Q: Incoming data from the Federal Reserve is making many economists reevaluate expectations of a mild recession in 2024. What’s your take on that viewpoint? Do you share a similar outlook?
A: There are a number of signals indicating that a mild recession could happen late this year or early next year. The yield curve has been inverted for more than a year. That would normally indicate we will have a recession sometime in the next several months. But there’s a big caveat: even if the U.S. has a recession, I expect Georgia’s economic slowdown would only be half as long and half as deep.
Q: What major trends are you seeing that will affect Georgia’s current economic outlook? What industries will experience the most growth in the next five years?
A: Over the past four years, Georgia has been in the top 5 states for total job growth. Georgia has had more than double the job growth on a percentage basis than the U.S. And remember, Georgia recovered more quickly from the pandemic than the U.S. did by about seven months, so things have been good here for a while. What’s especially impressive is the growth in the professional business services industry. That growth has helped attract new businesses here that know they’ll need to access those services.
In terms of other trends, healthcare is strong and will stay strong. Construction will too. You won’t see as much construction on the office side as you will on the industrial, warehousing, and commercial side, but the only market that’s soft in the commercial real estate industry is office space.
Manufacturing will also stay strong, as will the clean