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Posted: December 30, 2009 12:01 a.m.

Year in Review: Economics and Housing

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To find the most important stories of 2009, one simply has to follow the money.

The nationwide recession continued to affect the daily lives of many in Newton County, as job and home losses mounted, property values and tax revenues decreased and industries and long-time shops closed their doors.

When the first ray of sunlight shone on Newton County in 2009, the unemployment rate was already above 10 percent, following a difficult December. The rising rate leveled off at 11.8 percent in March and even dropped to 11.2 percent by April.

However, the rate’s climb soon restarted, nearing 13 percent in July. Since then, the rate has declined again and is hovering around 12.4 percent as of October.

Newton County was hit harder than the national and state averages and even its neighboring counties, because of a dependence on the construction industry. Newton was among the nation’s fastest growing counties in the decade, but most people who moved to the county were either working in Atlanta or retirees.

Much of Newton’s job growth was tied to the residential building boom. The continuation of the housing market’s collapse in 2009 sunk hopes of a local recovery.

As of Dec. 10, more than 1,013 homes had been foreclosed, many of them owned and many vacant. In addition, 589 vacant lots had also been foreclosed, according to the Newton County Tax Assessor’s Office.

Recently, home sales have started to pick up, even as the foreclosure wave continues. Locally and nationwide, real estate experts are beginning to see signs of market stabilization, but foreclosures are expected to plague much of the nation for a few years to come.

As far as new construction, it simply isn’t occurring. Newton County handed out three residential permits in November.

Local job losses hurt long-time county businesses. Goody’s Family Clothing, Wolf Camera and the Covington Athletic Club all closed in 2009, as well as several restaurants and other smaller stores.

State and nation-wide slumping economies hurt some of Newton’s larger industries as well. Komatsu’s closed its Covington forklift manufacturing plant this month leaving around 160 employees out of a job, and in June C.R. Bard closed its Harland Drive facility and laid off nearly 100 employees.

On a positive note, SKC Inc. broke ground on a new facility at its Covington plant in September, and General Mills started construction on a new distribution plant in Social Circle in July. The plant is expected to be completed in mid-2010 and will employ around 112 people.

In the midst of a down economy, entrepreneurs found opportunities, and automotive repair and home health care businesses were two areas that saw new business start-ups. Home Occupation License applications also increased, particularly for unemployed entrepreneurs looking for jobs in internet-based business such as consulting, freelance services, internet research, arts and crafts and online auction selling. Home-based businesses are becoming more popular because of their low overhead costs.

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