YEAR IN REVIEW: Newton felt pain of economy

COVINGTON -- Newton County was not immune to the hard economic times that plagued the nation. The unemployment rate rose, the housing market declined and businesses closed up shop during 2009.

The local unemployment rate stayed higher than the state rate for most of the year, nearing nearly 13 percent in summer. By November, it had dropped to 12.5 percent, but was still more than 2 percent above the state rate and up 4 percent from the same time last year.

Komatsu America Corp. announced in March that it was closing its Covington facility and eliminating 160 jobs. C.R. Bard Inc. also closed its urological division on Harland Drive, eliminating nearly 100 jobs.

Goody's Family Clothing, Covington Athletic Club and Wolf Camera were other notable closings. Representatives from Cracker Barrel Old Country Store and Restaurant also said they would not locate along Ga. Highway 142 as planned.

However, SKC Inc. broke ground on an expansion, and construction is under way on a General Mills distribution Center in Walton County. The Social Security Administration also announced plans to open a new office for disability hearings in 2010.

The county's financial crunch resulted in cancellation of the annual Fourth of July community celebration at The Church at Covington. The cost of fireworks is $7,580, with the county and city typically splitting the cost at $3,790 each and the church raising money for entertainment and other activities.

County commissioners agreed the county would not participate this year due to a shortage of funds, and that decision resulted in the city of Covington also pulling its funding, since the council had made its participation contingent upon the county's involvement.

Meanwhile, the county's housing market also took a hit. Final year-end numbers aren't available yet, but second quarter data from Coldwell Banker NRT Development Advisors shows that current single-family detached permits have dropped by 70 percent, to 16, from the same time period in 2008.

The average sales price on new construction dropped 21 percent, from $184,347 in second quarter 2008 to $144, 486 in second quarter 2009. On resales, the average sales price dropped 22.5 percent, from $127,508 in second quarter 2008 to $98,853 in 2009.

Foreclosures accounted for 45.6 percent of total sales.