How do you see the state of the economy in Bryan County?
Phil Jones, Bryan County Administrator:
In general, the economy is good in Bryan County. The place where we’re taking a beating in the last five to six months is the housing industry.
Overall, our economy seems to be fairly good compared to nationally. We have not taken that hit here - not like a lot of larger areas. Some houses are being built. It’s not what it was a year ago, but it had to level out at some point. There a significant amount of projects lined up for the future, with multiple subdivisions on both ends of the county, so there is no reason for panic.
Chong Calabro, restaurant owner, Richmond Hill Café:
It certainly feels like the economy is bad. Our business has dropped by almost 75 percent from what it was last year. It (steep decline) started in June.
I’ve been here over seven and a half years, so I have a lot of regular customers. But it’s still hard just to pay our bills. There’s so much competition here, I don’t see how many of these places survive in this small town.
Now that gas prices have dropped, people have started to open their wallets a bit and we’ve seen a bit of an increase just here lately.
Richmond Hill is growing and we got a lot of business from construction workers and from real estate when people would stop in here to eat when looking at houses. Now I don’t even see one person like that.
If construction and real estate goes bad, we go bad because that’s most of the local businesses here. Everyone else drives to Savannah or somewhere else for work, and so they eat out there.
Wilson Pickett, builder, Coastal Living Homes:
The economy might be in a recession, but the real estate market is in a depression. Some people lost 10-15 percent of their values which is alarming thing, especially when you expect property to appreciate. Buyers are real cautious right now and credit is tight. The only good thing is the feds are trying to keep interest rates down, but they don’t even have a solid grasp on all this. When you see a company like Washington Mutual go out of business after 100 years of doing business, it’s pretty serious stuff.
In the housing market, anything over $250,000 is sitting idle right now. The military is providing housing in the 200’s and high 100’s, regardless of the market. They’re the people who need houses, and there’s still a fairly viable market for that price range.
Johnny Murphy, developer, Bryan Land and Timber:
I think the national crisis has bled completely over to the local level. The housing numbers show a significant slowdown. If you take out the under $200,000 building permits, the numbers are almost non-existent for the housing industry. I contribute that to lack of marketing.
There is virtually no promoting or advertising for real estate and development. That’s because they didn’t have to spend ad dollars in the past. Housing and development is what drove our economy, but we can no longer ride that momentum. I think we’ll pull out of this when people think of a way to promote the industry. And, really, Bryan County is just catching up with the rest of the market in doing so.
Ricky Bodaford, independent realtor:
I’ve actually been laid off as sales manager with Prudential, which is directly attributed to the housing market slowdown. I’m still a broker, but I also work for the railroad now.
The economic situation has just further reinforced the downturn we had already seen in the housing market. The market is facing challenges that are unprecedented in our area and nationally. While it is at historic low levels in our area, we’re still enjoying much better times than others around country.
The things that have long attracted folks to our area are still an influence – a strong school system and living community, favorable weather. People will continually be driven to our area. However, we still face challenging times ahead and may not have seen the worst for our area.
Bob Whitmarsh, finance director for the city of Richmond Hill:
Compared to nationally or places like Florida, Michigan and even Atlanta, we’re in decent shape. There is some inventory of houses that need to be processed out, but the commercial end seems to have picked up. Overall, our economy is still strong. Nationally, I don’t know if we’re halfway into a recession or about to start one. When you’re in bad times, it’s hard to gage how long into it you are.
All things considered, Richmond Hill is doing fairly well. We’re far better off than a lot of places. There are some real estate challenges though.
Many have lost on their 401k, which seems to have made folks weary of spending. That may be the next thing – lack of retail sales for Christmas time.