The Atlanta Fed took a significant step in 2008 to strengthen the Bank's contribution to the nation's monetary and economic policymaking: the establishment of the Regional Economic Information Network, or REIN.
Created to enhance the Atlanta Fed's knowledge of the Southeast's economy, REIN has two components—an online repository of southeastern data and analysis, updated monthly, and the Local Economic Analysis and Research Network (LEARN).
Those elements make REIN a natural extension of the regional Federal Reserve Bank's historic mission to feed independent and diverse economic intelligence into the nation's monetary policymaking process. In many ways, the Sixth Federal Reserve District is particularly well suited to take advantage of regional information gathering: It is populous, with 46 million residents; it is geographically large; and it is economically diverse, from tourism in Florida and New Orleans to professional services in Atlanta to automotive manufacturing in Alabama. That diversity makes it reasonably representative of the national economy.
What's happening now
By extending its reach deeper into local economies throughout the Southeast, the Atlanta Fed gains a better sense of what might show up weeks or months later in official statistics. Timeliness is especially important during an economic downturn because statistical evidence of a turnaround often does not emerge until well after recovery has begun.
REIN filters information to the bank's Atlanta headquarters through a structure built geographically—with a presence at each of the Atlanta Fed's five branch offices—and around particular industries.
The Atlanta Fed's Regional Executive at each branch office convenes a regional advisory council. The councils, some convening in 2008 and some to begin work in 2009, are assembled around an important local industry, and participants provide insight from their business experience and contacts. The regional advisory councils and the offices running each are energy, New Orleans; trade and transportation, Jacksonville; tourism, Miami; agribusiness, Birmingham; small and midsize entrepreneurial business, Nashville; and health care, education, and labor, Atlanta.
The Atlanta Fed's Regional Executives are key players in REIN. As the mission of the branches has evolved, the Regional Executive's duties have also transitioned from an operational role centered on running the branch to a position more concerned with gathering economic intelligence and representing the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.
The five Regional Executives work closely with their branch board of directors, cultivate business contacts in their communities, deliver speeches, and generally serve as the face of the Atlanta Fed in their respective areas. In this way, the Regional Executives help the Reserve Bank serve its constituencies on a more personal level and at the same time gain insight into how businesses affect and are affected by the economy.
Under the auspices of REIN, the Regional Executives have become part of the Atlanta Fed's Research Department. To stay abreast of economic and business data and trends, the Regional Executives spend considerable time exchanging ideas and information with the Reserve Bank's analysts and economists.
REIN also brings greater structure to the Reserve Bank's monthly surveys of businesses. These include industry-focused questionnaires answered by home builders, real estate agents, retailers, and manufacturers. While the surveys are not new, REIN has helped to increase the number of participants and made it easier to assimilate the information the surveys produce on moods and expectations in the marketplace.
LEARN keeps Fed's ear to the ground on campus
Another component of the REIN initiative is LEARN, a forum for academics and researchers with detailed knowledge of local economies in the Southeast. The aim of LEARN is to create a nexus for discussing and exchanging ideas on research, methodologies, and current economic developments.
Through LEARN, the Atlanta Fed deepens its relationships with university economists and researchers and establishes a more systematic means of incorporating their research and expertise into monetary and economic policymaking.
Ultimately, REIN generates raw material for the vital work of formulating monetary policy. At the meetings of the Federal Open Market Committee, each Reserve Bank president makes a presentation about conditions in his or her region. With the advent of REIN, Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart approaches those sessions armed with even more nuanced and textured grassroots intelligence.