By John Schaffner

Economics was the focus of the bi-annual meeting of the Historic Brookhaven Neighborhood Association Nov. 11 in two very different ways.

First, the featured speaker for the evening was Dr. Donald Ratajczak, professor emeritus of economics at Georgia State University, who spent almost an hour discussing the ups, downs and his view of the economy.

Second was the presentation to the association of a check for $5,000 from Warner Bros., the movie makers who had recently spent time in Brookhaven filming segments of a movie entitled “Life As We Know It,” starring Katherine Heigl of the television drama “Grey’s Anatomy” and Josh Duhamel of the blockbuster movie “Transformers.”

The movie, which is scheduled for release Dec. 22, 2010, follows two single adults who become caregivers of a girl when her parents die in a car accident. Filming began in Atlanta in September and continued into November, with several scenes shot in the Brookhaven neighborhood. The movie included a block party on Club Drive neighborhood and included many residents as extras.

As for the evening’s serious discussion of the economy in the great room of the Capitol City Club, Ratajczak told some 75 attendees representing the 480 association members that if the auto, finance and home building industries are excluded from the quotient, the rest of the economy is doing fairly well.

“We’re still losing jobs, but we are generating more economic activity,” said Ratajczak, who retired after 27 years as director of the Economic Forecasting Center in Georgia State’s J. Mack Robinson College of Business. He now is principal of Ratajczak Capital Partners, LLC in Buckhead.

Of the three problem industries, Ratajczak said:

–The auto industry may be past its crisis. With the federal government’s “clunker” trade-in program, a lot of new cars were sold and used cars destroyed (a mandated part of the program). “So, used car prices came up,” he said.

–The home building industry crisis may be bottoming out. Atlanta prices have been up 3.6 percent in the past couple of months and 7 percent in the last quarter, he reported. And, he said the indication is that banks do not want to foreclose on properties.

–Banks are still a problem, he stated, but added that big banks will not fail, because the government will not let it happen. “We cannot afford to have one of the big names go away,” he said. He indicated the banking industry may have stabilized, but the problems have not yet been solved.

He told the group of homeowners in one of Atlanta’s more pricey neighborhoods, “If you bought your house before 2003 it probably still has the value you paid for it.” However, home values dropped 22 percent in the past few years. “This is a great time to buy a house if you can get the financing,” he added.

The economic forecaster also said, “The economy cannot be sustained with no purchasing power,” and the reduction in purchasing power has been at the core of the economic problems.

Ratajczak predicted the third quarter of this year would show a 3 percent growth, 2 percent in the fourth quarter, 3 percent in the first quarter of 2010, followed by a second quarter growth of 2 percent. He predicted a more robust 4.5 to 4 percent growth in 2011.

However, he told the group that consumers need to make serious living standard adjustments.

Following that economic forecast, the rest of the meeting focused on accomplishments of the association in the past year and a discussion of a new dues structure, which drew criticism from some senior members because of the elimination of senior citizen discounts for both the association dues and private security services.