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      How do you see Southwest Georgia's economic future?

      Ted Clem and Robert Sumichrast

      Business and community leaders came together in Albany today to discuss the future of the Southwest Georgia economy.

      The 2011 Southwest Georgia Economic Outlook Conference was held at the downtown Hilton Garden Inn.

      That location was appropriate because the message of the program seemed to be that the local economy hasn't checked out, it's just resting comfortably.

      "I'm hoping we hear some good news," said Ted Clem of the Albany-Dougherty Economic Development Commission. "I think the last two years have been a fairly depressing luncheon."

      Clem got part of what he wanted at Thursday's Southwest Georgia Economic Outlook Conference.

      Economists from the University of Georgia shared analysis, recommendations, and predictions for the region's future.

      "The economic recovery that began, really, in 2009, will continue and soon that will be accompanied by job growth," said Jeffrey Humphrey of the University of Georgia.

      The key to sustaining the recovery and creating new jobs is stabilizing the construction industry.

      "The reason that Georgia has lagged the country is because of the real overexposure to homebuilding and real estate development," said UGA's Robert Sumichrast.

      Experts at the conference say they recognize that although the economy of the state as a whole may be improving, job creation and growth in Southwest Georgia â" and in Albany, in particular, , continue to be slow.

      "You are a regional, retail trade center so that will help," said Humphrey. "On the negative side, I haven't seen a lot of big announcements locally we really don't have a lot of big projects coming in."

      But there may be light at the end of the tunnel.

      "We'll still see a lot of foreclosures this year but we're at a point where home prices have dropped below what you would value them at historic trends," added Simuchrast. "We are finally seeing an increase in homebuilding."

      Economists are also optimistic about an upswing in Southwest Georgia's manufacturing industries. They say that could add a significant amount of jobs to the local economy very quickly.

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