Measuring recovery, and global reach

By Tom Baxter

Two recent surveys offer us a way of cross-referencing the position of our city and region at a promising but precarious moment.

A ranking of the states by how well they’ve rebounded from the 2008 recession paints a picture  of a very uneven recovery.

The gross domestic product in the nation as a whole reached pre-recession levels five years ago. But five states — Connecticut, Mississippi, Arizona, Nevada and Wyoming — still haven’t recovered. It’s a similar story when you look at other parameters. Eight states haven’t gotten back to pre-recession employment levels, and home prices in 15 states haven’t recovered.

Mark Zandi, chief economist at Moody’s Analytics, said the recovery is being driven by the nation’s largest metro areas.

“Metro areas have attracted millennials and boomer empty-nesters and are globally oriented, benefiting from global capital inflows. Rural economies that are dependent on commodity-based activities have suffered,” Zandi said.

It’s striking that every one of the states still lagging in GDP borders at least one state which has rebounded by 15 percent or more. The Desert West and the Mississippi Valley are areas of obvious weakness, but the recession and the long recovery have turned the map into a patch quilt.

Georgia turns up somewhere in the middle of all this, trailing Tennessee in signs of recovery but ahead of Florida and Alabama. Apparently due to a sharp increase in housing values, Macon-Bibb turned up earlier this year in a list of most-recovered cities, https://wallethub.com/edu/most-least-recession-recovered-cities/5219/ But the big reason the state’s not shaded more like Alabama, or even Mississippi, on that recovery map is that it has the Atlanta metro area as a generator of economic activity.

So how’s that going? The management consulting firm A.T. Kearney attempts to answer this question every year with its Global Cities Index and Global Cities Outlook rankings. The 27 metrics that go into the Index are designed to measure the “perfect” cities, from a global business perspective. The Outlook looks at 13 metrics to determine the “fastest” cities. We’re better at fast than perfect.

This year’s results were a mixed bag for the International City (we do still call ourselves that, don’t we?). Atlanta ranked 38th among the world’s cities in the Global Cities Index, and 17th in the Global Cities Outlook. Not too shabby — I’m pretty sure we don’t still say that — but it’s an 11-city drop from last year, when Atlanta’s outlook was ranked 6th in the world.

The rankings tend to bounce around — Atlanta had climbed to 6th place from 16th the year before — and it isn’t immediately clear how we may have stumbled. The indexes measure everything from population with tertiary degrees (Tokyo is tops) to museums (Moscow) to patents per capita (San Francisco).

But when the contest is about being swiftest, we can’t be complacent for long. This is a global economy, primed for speed, where the stakes are very high.

The results of one survey don’t occur in isolation from the other. Atlanta’s global bounce is to some extent affected by the economic fortunes of the state at large, but not nearly as much as the state is affected by the economic rhythms of the Atlanta metro area.

The last election pitted the economy which is rebounding against the one which isn’t. But the economic health of the state at large depends on metro Atlanta, and the economic health of metro Atlanta depends on its ability to compete domestically for the brightest innovators, and globally for a footing in the international economy.

With the expansion of shipping through the Panama Canal in Savannah, this global tilt isn’t going to become any less pronounced, no matter how government policies change. Atlanta pointed itself at the world years ago, and Georgia followed.

Tom Baxter has written about politics and the South for more than four decades. He was national editor and chief political correspondent at the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, and later edited The Southern Political Report, an online publication, for four years. Tom was the consultant for the 2008 election night coverage sponsored jointly by Current TV, Digg and Twitter, and a 2011 fellow at the Robert J. Dole Institute of Politics at the University of Kansas. He has written about the impact of Georgia’s and Alabama's immigration laws in reports for the Center for American Progress. Tom and his wife, Lili, have three adult children and seven grandchildren.

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