Area economy improving, experts say

By Susan Gibbs

The Charlottesville area – which includes Greene — is in recovery.

So says Moody’s Analytics, a leading independent provider of economic, financial, country and industry research.

Experts are cautious, still saying that the national economic recovery has a long way to go, and that many areas are still in recession.

But because, according to Moody’s Analytics, this area has already reached its lowest point, or most depressed stage of the trade cycle, it has been classified as “in recovery.”

In other words, the worst is over.

Greene County Chamber of Commerce President Robbie Morris, owner of Performance Signs in Ruckersville, defines that as “more boots on the ground.

“Two years ago no one was buying anything that they absolutely didn’t have to. They were repairing what they had and just trying to survive,” he notes.

“Last year I heard from many businesses that they were hitting pockets of strong sales and then dips,” Morris continues. “It seemed that it was either feast or famine. This was difficult to staff for and I think many business owners were doing the best with the people and equipment they had. They were too skittish to make significant investments.

“In the last several months, I believe things have really opened up. Businesses are becoming more confident and are showing it,” he says. “They are hiring employees, buying vehicles, and adding equipment.”

Morris’s optimism is backed up a statement from John Knapp, senior economist at the Center for Economic & Policy Studies at the University of Virginia’s Weldon Cooper Center for Public Service.

Knapp identifies Greene County as part of the Charlottesville Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA), and therefore an integral part of the local metropolitan area.

He says: “I see from the Census Bureau’s “Factfinder” that in 2000 when Green had 7,925 resident workers, 5,717 commuted to work outside the economy. I am sure that many worked in Charlottesville or Albemarle County. Thus Greene’s economic fortunes are importantly tied to developments in the larger MSA region.

“The National Ground Intelligence Center is a real plus for Greene even though it is located in Albemarle County,” Knapp continues. “The center’s high-wage workers and defense contractors’ high-wage workers will add to spending at retailers and service facilities in Greene County. Also, the growing retail center in Ruckersville will draw consumers from outside the county and attract county residents’ spending that previously went outside the economy.”

In late February the Daily Progress reported that regional Chamber of Commerce members were indicating that area businesses would stay in place this year, avoid layoffs and keep their employees, see increased revenues and earn profits similar to or higher than 2011.

While regional Chamber members reportedly planned little to no capital expenditures this year, they felt better about 2012 than they did in 2011, and were said to be “guardedly optimistic.”

Knapp, too, is optimistic: “I do see consumer spending improving in the area as the U.S. economy improves, as population growth occurs in (Greene) county, and as a larger concentration of retailing develops in the (county’s) economy.”

As is Morris.

Referring to the growing confidence he hears Greene County business people expressing, and the fact that they are spending, he says: “My hope is that activity breeds activity; the more confident that small business owners are to invest in their businesses, the more all of us prosper.”

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