Fill jobs and classrooms to further help diverse Augusta economy

The new Amazon warehouse is under construction at White Oak Business Park in Appling. More than 500 area construction jobs were added in the last year, according to Dr. Simon Medcalfe, who presents Augusta University's annual economic forecast each year.

A diverse economy helped the Augusta area weather the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, but for growth to continue, people must return to work and their children must return to classrooms.

Those are some takeaways from Augusta University’s annual economic forecast, delivered for the first time virtually in a series of videos, because of social distancing concerns, instead of during a breakfast at AU’s Summerville Campus. 

“We do have a diverse economy,” said economics professor Dr. Simon Medcalfe, who presents the forecast each year. “I think a lot of people sometimes think that we’re really reliant on health care and the military base, and that’s true. We do have a lot of government jobs that helped during the pandemic.”

But other economic areas performed well, such as manufacturing, which Medcalfe said is “probably underrecognized in the local area.” Large regional manufacturers include International Paper, Textron Specialized Vehicles, Club Car and John Deere.

The construction sector also saw gains. Ongoing work at sites such as Fort Gordon and Burke County’s Plant Vogtle keeps workers in demand.

“Diverse economies help,” Medcalfe said. “You wouldn’t want to be Las Vegas.”

The gambling and resort city is a major example of an area vastly dependent on the leisure and hospitality industry, but the Augusta area took a significant hit in that sector, too.

Local leisure and hospitality jobs, Medcalfe said, “fell precipitously in April, with the double whammy of the Masters being canceled and the pandemic.” Before COVID hit, more than 27,000 people had jobs in that sector. But in April that fell “by almost half,” he said, with about 12,000 jobs lost.

“We’ve seen some recovery since, so that leisure and hospitality is somewhere just about 4,000 to 5,000 jobs off the pre-pandemic peak,” he said.