Prattville’s economy is weathering the storm

Prattville is weathering the economic storm - Illustration by Marc Parker

Prattville – By definition, a recession is a general slowdown in economic activity over a period of time. According to the National Bureau of Economic Research, the current recession began in December of 2007, and with 2010 now upon us many top economists believe the country is still in a financial tailspin.

Though the national economic forecast is gloomy, the local outlook is brighter. With Prattville benefitting from the United States Air Force, State Government and a retail boom in east Prattville, the city seems to be more capable of weathering the storm than other U.S. cities. Though some local business owners are unsure of a financial turnaround in 2010, they all agree that there is light at the end of the economic tunnel.

Jeff Bates, an instructor of Economics at Auburn University at Montgomery for the last ten years who has appeared often on network television as an economic analyst, feels that the recession is not over.

“While the economy is not getting worse, I don’t see it improving in the near future,” Bates said. “We are in a stale economy, which will depend on unemployment decreasing and consumer confidence increasing.”

Bates also stated that, in his opinion, the retail market and the housing market will probably remain flat; however, the local area could be in better shape than most of the country.

“State government, Maxwell/Gunter, and sound local political leaders all help,” Bates continued. “When the economy starts improving, I particularly think Prattville will do exceptionally well.”

Stephen Brooks, co-owner of Carol Brooks Home and Holiday Shoppe, in downtown Prattville for the past four years, has been extremely pleased to operate a business in the city.

“We’ve had such wonderful support from the mayor, the City Council, and the residents,” he said.

Last year was also a financial success, according to Brooks.

“2009 was anything but flat, as predicted. After we do taxes, I think that it’s going to turn out to be a good year and 2010 is projected to be a positive year also,” continued Brooks.

Concerning the country’s economy, Brooks predicts that it will improve this year.

“I think overall that people were looking for good value and they bought wisely and yes, I do think that the economy is well on the way to recovery.”

Another business owner in Prattville, however, does not share Brooks’ optimism about an economic turnaround until possibly toward the end of 2010. Last year was a disappointing one financially for Prattville City Councilman Ray Boles, who has owned Prattville Carpet for twelve years.

“In 2009 we paid the bills, laid off a couple of employees, and were just able to maintain and pay the rent,” said Boles. “I don’t think the economy will turn around until after the election of 2010 … people are just scared to spend money right now.”

Boles predicts his sales will not increase from last year and blames much of it on the declining housing market.

“Three years ago I was dealing with over sixty builders. Today I’m literally dealing with three or four,” he said. “The housing market is just gone and that affects so many people … plumbers, roofers, painters, framers, all of the way down the line from the start to the end of the project.”

On the other end of the spectrum, 2009 was a profitable year in the tire business. Hootie Gipson operates Gipson’s Tire Pros and Auto Service in Prattville and Millbrook, and said that his business indeed weathered the economic storm.

“We did not have to lay anyone off, just cut some hours, and tightened the belt as they say,” said Gipson. “We figured out a way where people could work and live and still have everyone with us.”

Gipson likened the current recession to the hard economic times back when his family-owned business began in 1979. It was a time when the economy was hurting after the Vietnam War and the United States entered a recession with an energy shortage, high inflation, and high unemployment.

“We started our business during probably one of the greatest inflation periods ever and that created its own set of challenges,” he said. “But, this is probably the worst – I mean the most difficult time I’ve seen in this area during our thirty years of operation.”

Gipson, touting himself as an eternal optimist, was encouraged by the retail growth in Prattville.

“You know, Kohl’s is coming, so obviously they made a conscientious decision to do so,” Gipson said. “I think that when the big boys like that start coming in, it’s got to be good for the River Region.”

Rod Morgan, City of Prattville Finance Director, predicts an economic turnaround this year and lauds the city’s retail market as a factor in the recovery.

“The retail options we have now continue to keep local shoppers home and draw an increased share of regional retail customers,” Morgan said. “Prattville has historically enjoyed a strong market relative to the nation and state and though unemployment is now higher than it has been in years, we continue to benefit from lower levels of unemployment than the national and state averages.”

This has been the worst recession for the country in nearly a generation with business and consumer confidence plummeting; unemployment levels, bankruptcies, and foreclosures increasing. But, the general feeling locally is one of optimism and confidence that the turnaround is indeed in sight.

“I do believe that 2010 will be a better year financially than 2009,” said the city’s Finance Director. “Leading economic indicators trended up overall towards the end of 2009 and I believe that will continue through 2010.”

Article by Melissa Parker and Marc Parker

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