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Analysis: ATL Economy Lagging Charlotte, Nashville

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In basketball terms, comparing Atlanta to Southern brethren Nashville and Charlotte is like pitting the varsity team's starting center against two pubescent guards on the freshman squad. The little guys might be water-bug quick, and maybe they can drain the occasional three-ball, but the stalwart owns the territory that really counts. Here's the thing, though, about the pimpled upstarts: They grow quick. All of this bears out in a recent study by Atlanta-based communications and public relations firm The Wilbert Group, which analyzed the "Southern trio" in eight real estate and economic categories and anointed Atlanta the "Winner" in just one of them. Charlotte, meanwhile, "won" four, leading the city's newspaper to declare that it "beat" its regional competitors in key measures such as office vacancy rate, GDP growth and growing rents. Based on those eight indicators, the analysis found, "Charlotte's economy is growing the fastest and Nashville's residential and multifamily markets are bouncing back the quickest. Atlanta is still a leader in economic development wins but lags behind its smaller competitors in the other seven areas." Is this a cause for concern?

First, the good news: Atlanta dominated the "Economic Development Wins" competition for 2014. And with this year's addition of the Mercedes-Benz North American headquarters, that momentum continues. But as those sour-grapes newspaper journos in Charlotte are quick to point out, this "win" is all but a given, being that Atlanta is a much larger market.

Probably the most disconcerting metrics involve GDP and job growth. Relatively speaking, Charlotte owned the job-growth game, beefing up its employment base by 32 percent since the dark days of 2009. Atlanta's, meanwhile, rose just 9 percent. And in terms of GDP growth in that time period, Charlotte's 23.8 percent growth edged out Nashville and nearly doubled Atlanta's.

Ouch.

Or maybe ... ouch?

But wait, there's more. Buying a home in Atlanta has become nearly 18 percent more expensive in the last five years. That's not as steep as Nashville's climb (19.5) percent, but far more than Charlotte's (9.8 percent). Whether that's a win or lose is in the eye of the mortgage holder, of course. Meanwhile, another metric shows that ATL has way more vacant office space than its lil' cousins.

Thankfully, the analysis includes some perspective.

A University of Georgia economist weighs in with a reminder that Atlanta's GPD in 2013 was $307 billion — or nearly three times as large as Charlotte ($139 billion) and Nashville ($101 billion). That might not hold much sway in terms of home prices and office vacancy, but, as the study notes, "it's harder for a large economy like Atlanta's to change as quickly, or as significantly, as smaller economies."

· Charlotte beats Nashville, Atlanta in real estate measures, group says [The Charlotte Observer]
· Southern Skylines study [Wilbert Group]
· Traffic, Transit Dominate List of New Atlantans' Complaints [Curbed]