In 21st century America, we would expect 20 years to bring significant economic change, even to a small local economy such as Glynn. And it did.
Glynn is a larger today. In 2000, the county’s population was 67,568. It’s now 86,002, an increase of 27 percent. We’re still small, but 27 percent is no small increase. Over the same 20 years, the U.S. population increased by 18 percent.
We are also more prosperous. Total personal income in Glynn, in 2012 dollars, increased from $2.58 billion in 2000 to $3.74 billion in 2019. That’s a 45 percent jump in inflation-adjusted personal income.
Some changes we literally see. For instance, the majestic Sidney Lanier Bridge, a revamped Jekyll Island, an increasingly entrepreneurial downtown Brunswick, a newer and much expanded Brunswick campus of the Southeast Georgia Health System and, my personal favorite, the transformation of a timid little community college into the warm, fearless, full throttle, four-year College of Coastal Georgia.
The industrial structure of our local economy has also changed over the past 20 years.
Hospitality continues to be Glynn’s leading industry and largest employer. That’s not surprising. Glynn is a prime tourist destination, so naturally hospitality is our leading industry, and it’s hard to imagine that changing.
What might be surprising is that our hospitality industry is an even bigger and more important part of our local economy today than it was 20 years ago.
It might seem reasonable to think that our population growth would lead to a more diverse industrial structure in which hospitality remains our leading industry while constituting a smaller fraction of a larger local economy.
In 2000, our hospitality industry consisted of 257 business establishments with 6,464 employees. That amounted to 11 percent of all Glynn businesses and 17.5 percent of the county’s employed workers.
In 2019, our hospitality industry consisted of 345 business establishments with 8,551 employees, amounting to 13 percent of the county’s businesses and 22 percent of its employed workers.
In short, while our local economy has grown much since 2000, our hospitality industry has grown even more.
Other significant changes in Glynn’s industrial structure have come in health care, construction and manufacturing.
In 2000, our health care industry accounted for 6.5 percent of Glynn’s employed workers. That put it behind hospitality (again, 17.5 percent), retail (14 percent), local government (11.8 percent), manufacturing (10 percent), professional and administrative services (9.8 percent) and the catch-all “other services” (8.8 percent) on the list of the county’s leading employers.
In 2019, health care eclipsed retail as Glynn’s second largest employer. Employment in our health care sector increased from 2,390 in 2000 to 5,274 in 2019, a jump of 121 percent. Those 5,274 workers made up 13.6 percent of the county’s employed workers. Retail remains a large employer, accounting for 12.9 percent of Glynn’s employed workers in 2019.
Construction and manufacturing have become smaller components of the Glynn economy. In 2000, construction employed 2,023 Glynn workers, accounting for 5.5 percent of total Glynn employment, while manufacturing employed 3,678 workers, 10 percent of the total. In 2019, construction employed 1,433 workers, 3.7 percent of total Glynn employment, while manufacturing employed 1,876 workers, 4.8 percent of the total.
A troubling note on the last 20 years: the size of our local labor force, currently about 39,000, has barely changed since 2005. Our population has increased, our economy has grown, but the size of our labor force hasn’t changed in 15 years.
We’ll take a closer look at our labor force situation in my next column.