Retailers sense economic upswing

By Greg Gelpi

The ads say "Eat Mor Chikin" and consumers have done just that, one Chik-fil-A owner said.

Members of the Clayton County Retail Association expressed optimism for the economy and the retail industry during a breakfast with U.S. Congressman David Scott, D-Atlanta, Monday.

Tobey McCormick, the owner and operator of the Chic-fil-A restaurant in Southlake Mall, said his business, and from what he has seen business at the mall, has increased in recent months.

Despite the economic downturn since Sept. 11, 2001, McCormick said the local economy is picking up.

"It seems things are definitely picking up," he said. "Since Christmas, we've really seen things turn around."

McCormick said business has yet to bounce back to its pre-Sept. 11 level, but that business is well on its way to recovery.

Congressman Scott echoed his sentiment on the economy.

"I think we have stopped the hemorrhaging," Scott said. "We are beginning to get out of the storm. If we let our guard down, the storm clouds begin to form behind us."

Brenda Deleshaw, the supervisor of the Clayton County Business License Office, said that it's too soon to know whether there are more business licenses issued for this year.

"I would say we are holding our own," Deleshaw said.

The U.S. Census identified five counties in Georgia, including four metro Atlanta counties, as the fastest growing counties in the country, Taylor West of The Home Depot said.

Anytime an area is growing, builders and residents turn to The Home Depot, West said. Last year, the company conducted one billion transactions and brought in $60 billion in sales.

Although the stock market continues its ups and downs, West said long term the market looks strong, as do short-term indicators.

Economic and national security top Scott's concerns for the country, he said, and the two go hand in hand.

"We are facing challenges on both fronts," Scott said. "My position on the fight against terrorists is that we must take it to them before they take it to us. I have long been a supporter of preemptive actions."

He said no one could have known that planes would be turned into weapons Sept. 11 or that people would line up to strap bombs to themselves.

"The one thing I support (President George W. Bush) 100 percent on is his resolve to fight terrorism," Scott said.

Scott cited his efforts in Congress on the economic front, while pointing to a bright future for the Southern Crescent.

A proposed commuter railway through Clayton County from Macon to Atlanta would relieve congested roadways and, more importantly, stimulate economic growth, he said.

"I cannot stress to you how important that is," Scott said. "Each (stop) will give the community the opportunity to build around it. If we get that commuter rail to come up here, there are all kinds of things we can do."

The railway would have stops along the Atlanta Motor Speedway and the Atlanta State Farmers Market in Forest Park, as well as stops in several county municipalities, he said.

Scott said that there are three ways to stimulate the economy: "massive" government spending, "tinkering" with interest rates and tax cuts. He said he supports the Bush tax cuts and broke from the Democratic Party saying that some of the cuts should be made permanent.

Scott cautioned that tax cuts must be accompanied by similar cuts in spending. He said that the country is currently spending money it doesn't have and that the country spends more on paying the interest on the national debt than it does on homeland security.

Scott touted his other legislative efforts with bankruptcy reform, "streamlining" taxes, healthcare and obesity lawsuit legislation, which cuts down on overweight consumers frivolously suing fast food restaurants for becoming overweight.

John Heavener of the Georgia Retail Association said that one of every five people in the state works in the retail industry. Last year, those retail workers made about $10 billion in wages.