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Forum assesses state of local economy
home build w

      In a recent forum hosted by the Home Builders Association of Statesboro, several public officials and business leaders reported on economic conditions here and around the state.
      Local building contractor Keely Fennell arranged the event as a way to educate the organization's membership about positive things that are happening in the community.
      "It has been a tough four years for everybody," Fennell said. "I felt it was important to hear some good news, to know that things are getting better, and that it is quite possible that the worst may be behind us."
Statesboro city manager Frank Parker described what the city is doing to try and spur development within the city and county.
      "We are working to modify ordinances to make them more user friendly and to make them more pro development," Parker said. "We know that in times like this, economic growth is very important as it brings jobs to our community which is income for our citizens."
      Parker said developers that are trying to build in Statesboro will find a much more welcoming environment at city hall.
      "We are encouraging growth, and have an atmosphere in which developers and builders know that they can work with us, and we will address their needs," Parker said. "We want to develop a feeling of trust, that we will work with them in a purposeful sort of manner, and encourage them to move here if it benefits our citizens for them to do so."
      Parker acknowledged that in the past, Statesboro's city government was perceived as an impediment to development.
      "This is different than what we have had in the last several years when it seemed like the city was looked on as being a barrier to growth here, and now we are being looked on as being more of a partner in growth," he said. "It seems to be working, as we are experiencing a lot of growth at this time. I think we are looking at right now at around $100 million in construction around the city. The city wants to be a partner, and we are. You have a very positive atmosphere within the city, and we hope to encourage that."
      Fennell expressed frustration with one aspect of the large scale construction that Parker referred to.
      "In many cases, our local construction workers and subcontractors are not getting hired for these jobs," she said. "We have great, trained individuals right here in Bulloch County that could do this work, and do it very well. I just wish some of these general contractors would give people here a chance."
       Edward Sibbald addressed the banking situation here and around the state. Sibbald serves as the director for the Center for Excellence in Financial Services at Georgia Southern University, and consults with banks in the area.
       "I believe that the banking industry in Georgia is going to slowly improve, and there are signs of strengthening," he said. "Regulators have restricted pretty much some of the real estate finance activities of local banks. Those restrictions will probably be lessened over the next year or two, but they remain in place right now."
       Even though there are banks in a position to loan money for development projects, Sibbald feels demand is the problem.
       "I don't believe an inability to make a loan right now is the biggest issue," he said. "It is just the lack of consumer demand right now that is much more of a driving force than the banks' financial condition."
       Fennell said, in her opinion, the construction market in Bulloch County was at its "worst" at the beginning of 2010, and is now beginning to improve.
       "We are concentrating on custom work and remodeling, and are even building a few 'spec' homes," she said "I think we are the only builder building any spec homes right now. You have to do different things to keep the wheels rolling. Every little bit helps. It helps the person doing sheet rock, the person putting up dry wall, or someone just doing a little landscaping."

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