Since moving to Glynn County two decades ago, Don Mathews has witnessed a variety of economic trends.
And as an economist and a professor at the College of Coastal Georgia, it’s something he’s always found intriguing.
“When I moved here in 1993, our local economy was relatively poor but with great potential,” he said. “Today, 21 years later, it is still relatively poor but with great potential. So the question is: why are we in the same basic situation after a generation? It’s an enormous question with no easy answers.”
Finding the reasons behind the trends was important to Mathews. It’s the subject of his latest report, titled “Our Coastal Economy in the 21st Century: A Tale of Three Economies.”
In it he examines the economic changes that have taken place over the first 14 years.
“It took me a couple months to compile the report. It’s one thing to gather the data, but a more difficult and time consuming thing to make sense of it all,” he said.
“I wanted to look at the performance of the local economy over a longer time period because the medium-term and long-term performance of an economy usually tells much more about an economy than its short-term fluctuations, which we tend to get hung up on too much.”
What Mathews discovered was three seemingly separate economies. The first, from 2000 to 2007, was a thriving economy with a booming construction and housing market.
The second was the recession driven plunge from 2008 to 2012. The third is the current stagnant economy.
“The fluctuations aren’t really troubling because they tend to offset themselves and because long-term trends are more important when it comes to improvements in living standards,” he said.
Mathews also noted that while the coast has often lagged behind national trends, the gap between the two is widening.
“It does trouble me very much that our living standards lag far behind those of the state and the nation. We began the new century far behind the state and the nation,” he said.
“That’s not good, but it wouldn’t be quite so bad if we were catching up. But we’re not. We’re falling further behind. That’s really troubling because we have the potential to do so much better.”
To improve, Mathews hopes the area will see more entrepreneurship and skilled workers.
“And a vibrant, dynamic local economy cannot be built on tourism and real estate alone,” he added.
Even so, Mathews knows that identifying problems is a lot easier than solving them. And he admits he doesn’t have the answers but feels the community’s focus on education is a step in the right direction.
“I wish I had the answers. The community’s investment in education, in particular the expansion of the College of Coastal Georgia and the new Brunswick High School, has been terrific. It needs to continue. The mainland desperately needs help. Revitalizing downtown, fixing our gateways and the Altama corridor are crucial,” he said.
“Our economic development people work hard. But they can’t do it all. The whole community has to be behind economic development. Economic development is not about a handful of people making a mess of money. It’s about higher living standards for everyone. It’s about building and creating and making this a better place, the place it has the potential to be and ought to be.”
The Brunswick News