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The Atlanta Fed's SouthPoint offers commentary and observations on various aspects of the region's economy.

The blog's authors include staff from the Atlanta Fed's Regional Economic Information Network and Public Affairs Department.

Postings are weekly.


April 10, 2015

The Fruits of Our Labor

February 2015 state-level labor market data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for Sixth District states was solid—on aggregate. Overall, the region contributed 45,900 net payrolls in February, which was 17 percent of the nation's 264,000 payrolls. The combined unemployment rate of District states declined 0.1 percentage point to 6.1 percent. In fact, the unemployment rate fell in all six states, which hasn't occurred in almost two years.

While it's important to look at the aggregate picture when thinking about labor market performance for the entire District, it's also meaningful to hone in on the drivers of that performance. Although the drivers are largely related to the sheer size of the labor force, in the case of February's job growth in Sixth District states, just two states contributed to the bulk of February's job gains (see the chart).

Georgia-payroll-contributions-from-retail

Georgia and Florida carry the weight of job growth
February was a standout month for the Peach State. With 25,400 net payrolls added, Georgia supplied more than half of the jobs of all Sixth District states combined, and was the second largest contributor to job growth in the United States. This over-the-month jobs figure was the most the state added in four years, also crushing its 2014 monthly average of 12,200 net payrolls. Job gains were widespread, but the industries that contributed the most net payrolls in Georgia were retail (up 5,300) and accommodation and food services (up 5,500). In fact, both industries have almost steadily added jobs on net each month in Georgia over the past two years (see the chart).

Georgia-payroll-contributions-from-retail

Not too far behind the Peach State in February was the Orange State, with 19,700 net jobs added. The largest gains came from the government (up 4,800; local government payrolls were up 3,200), retail (up 4,200), and health care and social assistance (up 3,700) sectors. Over the past two years, the retail and health care and social assistance industries, in particular, have contributed solid gains in the state. In reality, Florida has been a consistent contributor to Sixth District jobs growth for several years (see the chart).

Contributions-to-change-net-payrolls-by-sixth-district-state

Where did the other states stand? In addition to Georgia's 25,400 and Florida's 19,700 payrolls in February, Mississippi contributed 3,500 net jobs. The remaining states subtracted from job growth: Louisiana (down 700), Tennessee (down 800), and Alabama (down 1,200).

Unemployment rate declines in all states
All six states in the District experienced a decline in the unemployment rate in February, which hasn't occurred in almost two years (see the chart). The aggregate figure was 6.1 percent, slowly approaching the national rate of 5.5 percent. February rates by state were as follows: Alabama 5.8 percent, Florida 5.6 percent, Georgia 6.3 percent, Louisiana 6.7 percent, Mississippi 7.0 percent, and Tennessee 6.6 percent.

Unemployment-rates-for-us-sixth-district-states

Keeping an eye on developing trends
I'll be paying attention to future data to spot this year's trends in regional labor market indicators and report back here.

Photo of Rebekah DurhamBy Rebekah Durham, economic policy analysis specialis t in the Regional Economic Information Network at the New Orleans Branch of the Atlanta Fed

July 9, 2014

Southeastern States Mind the (Skills) Gap

During the past few years, we have heard from a significant number of regional business contacts about the challenges they experience filling certain positions and concerns about a skills gap facing the Southeast. We heard this from various industries, most often about engineering, construction, and IT jobs. The most recent Southeastern Insights mentions this widespread issue.

This skills shortage situation is not unique to the Southeast. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation published a state-by-state analysis last month measuring performance in a number of areas that contribute to economic prosperity. Their key conclusion reiterates our contacts’ concerns: that mounting skilled-labor shortages are on the horizon to such an extent that they may soon hinder economic growth. According to the study, the current skills gap dilemma is expected to grow substantially as baby boomers retire.  

Fortunately, there’s a bright side: many states have recognized this situation and have taken steps to address the ostensibly approaching workforce crisis. Many of our contacts from both private and public sectors pointed to joint initiatives created by states and businesses designed to confront and abate the situation; which the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation study says is essential to closing the gaps. Below is a sample, extracted from the study, of some of the efforts Sixth District states have taken:

Alabama

  • In 2013, the state launched a College and Career Ready Task Force charged with identifying ways to better prepare students for the workforce by training them in the skills demanded by growing industries across the state.
  • New and expanding businesses can get workforce development services through the Alabama Industrial Development Training program, which offers services to businesses in need of skilled workers, including preemployment selection and training, leadership development courses, and third-party process improvement assessments.
  • The Alabama Technology Network provides skills training for the manufacturing and high technology workforce. The network connects businesses to the portfolio of training resources and programs provided by the state’s colleges and universities, offering services through regional centers.
  • The Go Build Alabama initiative works to attract talented workers to construction and skilled trades.

Florida

  • Quick Response Training enables new and expanding businesses in need of training to partner with community colleges and other educational institutions in the state to develop and deliver workforce training programs.
  • The Incumbent Worker Training program supports training the existing workforce to enhance and maintain competitiveness.
  • The Career and Professional Education Act guides Florida’s efforts to diversify its economy and develop a more skilled workforce by encouraging collaboration among education, industry, workforce, and economic development stakeholders from across the state.

Georgia

  • In early 2014, the state approved a $44.7 million Science Learning Center on the University of Georgia’s South Campus, providing state-of-the-art facilities aimed at expanding the pipeline for students in science, technology, engineering, and math (often referred to collectively as STEM).
  • Groundbreaking also took place for the Georgia BioScience Training Center, which will support training for companies that choose to locate within the state. Georgia Quick Start, the state’s job training program, will build and operate the state-of-the-art biotech training center.

Louisiana

  • Via the Small Business Employee Training Program, employers can receive up to $3,000 to defray the costs of off-the-shelf training programs for an existing employee.
  • The Louisiana Workforce Commission established Workforce Partners to recognize businesses that have committed to building a “job ready” workforce in the state through support and training.
  • The Strategies to Empower People program provides access to job training, job readiness support, vocational education programs, and a variety of other skills-development services for those receiving government assistance.

Mississippi

  • The Workforce Investment Network consists of more than 60 training and employment centers around the state where employers and job seekers can access services like training, job postings, on-the-job training programs, employment screening services, and job placement assistance.
  • The Mississippi Development Authority also maintains a team of workforce specialists who work with colleges, businesses, workforce development professionals, and other stakeholders to identify resources useful to a particular business. The authority also builds partnerships to pursue needed training services.
  • The University of Mississippi maintains a Professional and Workforce Development program, offering online enrichment courses, certification programs, and outreach services, bringing tailored training programs directly to the employer.

Tennessee

  • The Tennessee Job Skills grant program offers support to technology companies that create “high-skill, high-wage” jobs, reimbursing eligible costs incurred in training development implementation.
  • Entrepreneurs in need of quick turnaround in receiving support for training costs can make use of the state’s Job Based Training Reimbursement program, which provides support within the first 90 days after a new job is created and training starts.
  • The FastTrack Job Training Assistance Program offers employers state support to cover costs for classroom instruction, on-the-job training, training-related travel, training vendors, and development of training materials and programming.

Sixth District states appear to be on a solid track to address skills gap challenges, combining investment in training, education, and business assistance as a long-term workforce development strategy. Time will tell if the investment pays off (we should know sooner rather than later, as boomers are expected to start retiring in droves).

To learn more about states’ efforts, as well as their rankings across five policy areas—talent pipeline, exports and international trade, technology and entrepreneurship, business climate, and infrastructure—check out the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s study. There’s also a nifty interactive map you can use to view state rankings and data easily.

Photo of Rebekah DurhamBy Rebekah Durham, economic policy analysis specialist in the Atlanta Fed's New Orleans Branch


May 27, 2014

A City of Big Ideas

Here in the Southeast, a buzz has been growing around the idea of innovation. In my hometown, Atlanta, startups have been popping up like weeds. What makes Atlanta a good place to innovate? To start, Atlanta is home to a number of top-tier universities and colleges, including Emory University, Georgia State University, Morehouse College, Spelman College, Agnes Scott College, and Georgia Tech, which U.S. News recently ranked fifth in the country for engineering. The city also boasts one of the fastest-growing urban populations in the country and a cost of living below the national average.

Among recent developments, a study done by the Kaufmann Foundation ranked Atlanta second in the nation in entrepreneurial activity. As well, Georgia companies drew in more than $116 million in venture capital funding in the first quarter of 2014, compared with $46 million just two years earlier. On top of it all, Forbes magazine placed Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) on its list of the top 12 Business Incubators Changing the World. So what’s the deal? Is Atlanta becoming the next Silicon Valley? Why has innovation been the buzzword of the last decade here?

A growing consensus holds that innovation is the key to economic growth in developed economies. Innovation enables firms to become more productive and thus increase output without increasing the amount of inputs (labor, capital, etc.). Throughout modern history, the kings of all innovations are the game changers, sometimes referred to as general-purpose technologies. Game changers include inventions including the steam engine, electrical power and, more recently, information and communication technology. Juan Moreno-Cruz, an assistant professor in the school of economics at Georgia Tech, noted that although you can’t always recognize a game changer right away; “there are small things that combine that make general-purpose technologies important.”

Without the small things, general-purpose technologies never become significant, and it’s here that start-ups become important. Stephen Fleming, vice president for economic development and technology ventures and executive director of the Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2) at Georgia Tech, says that, “Innovation is the reason that they exist.” Part of Fleming’s role is to oversee Georgia Tech’s ATDC, one of the nation’s oldest—it was founded in 1980—and largest business incubators attached to a university. Throughout the years, it has graduated more than 150 companies, which together have acquired over $2 billion in outside financing. “We shelter them from the ups and downs of the market,” says Fleming. “We do this for a while so that the company does not die from the downs.” But how exactly does the ATDC foster innovation in their start-ups? “We allow them the chance to fail.”

This is one of the many things that Fleming feels the U.S. does right. “There is a difference between being a failure and failing. If you fail, you just had a very expensive education on what not to do.” This holds true even for established small and medium-sized enterprises. “Let your people try stuff!” A survey done by PricewaterhouseCoopers asked CEOs which elements are some of the “most important ingredients to successful innovation,” and 57 percent of respondents agreed: “the right culture to foster and support innovation.” Meanwhile, 37 percent also responded by citing a “willingness to challenge norms and take risks.”

So, back to the question at hand: Is Atlanta becoming the next Silicon Valley? Fleming (wearing his “No Valley” button) would answer no; we’re becoming a better version of Silicon Valley that is welcoming to small companies. He points out four parts of our innovation ecosystem that make Atlanta a great place to innovate right now: First, the city has top-tier talent from all of the schools mentioned above. Second, unlike Silicon Valley, the city has the customers for the companies (Atlanta ranks third in the nation among cities with the most Fortune 500 headquarters). Third, customers who aren’t here are just a nonstop flight away, thanks to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Fourth and final, Atlanta has plenty of capital to work with.

It’s certainly a compelling case, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out.

By Trevor Lindsay, an economic intern in the Atlanta Fed’s research department


April 29, 2014

Is the Southeast Poised for Tourism Growth?

The Atlanta Fed's Travel and Tourism Advisory Council met at the Miami Branch for the first time this year on April 17. Overall, council members were enthusiastic about economic activity, and its benefits for the tourism sector, in the Southeast.

Georgia and Alabama bounced back from harsh weather conditions in January and February. The outlook for the next three months is positive, with contacts reporting a strong number of bookings and ticket sales. Florida's tourism benefited from the winter weather with travelers seeking warm weather or extending stays as a result of cancelled flights. Fort Lauderdale, in particular, indicated record numbers in February and March.

The Southeast experienced an increase in international tourist activity in 2013, primarily from Latin America and Europe. Participants noted domestic travelers were travel fatigued and are staying closer to home. Consumer spending increased from a year ago, not only in hotel and food expenditures but in retail stores as well. The increase in spending came primarily from luxury restaurants and hotels.

On the horizon for regional travel and tourism
The council discussed the increase in capital expenditures across the region, reporting heavy construction activity in new hotels, sports venues, and other attractions in addition to renovations of restaurants, hotels, and convention centers.

Technology enhancements continue to significantly affect the industry and are being implemented across many segments of the industry. For example, customers can now complete ticket sales for theme parks, sporting events, and other entertainment events as well as reservations for dinner or special services such as spa treatments prior to traveling. Travelers can electronically handle requests for food orders, hotel check-in, beach chair reservations, and maintenance requests once they have reached their destination. (Don't be surprised to find yourself handed an iPad upon arrival at your hotel to facilitate check-ins and any other needs during your stay.)

Tourism markets expand
Interestingly, the council indicated that families are using children's sporting events—like traveling little leagues—as their family vacation. In response to this growing market, the industry is developing special venues and events for these groups to include family- and sports-oriented activities.

The state of Florida is promoting itself as a destination for medical treatment as a way to expand its customer travel industry. The state is proposing legislation to require VISIT FLORIDA, the State's official marketing corporation, to market Florida as a medical destination. Business contacts in the health care field are also heavily marketing health care in the state to countries with an underdeveloped health care sector.

All that said, the travel and tourism sector looks promising in the near term, and new industry developments should enhance the vacation experience for those about to visit the Southeast.

By Marycela Diaz-Unzalu, an economic and financial education specialist in the Miami Branch of the Atlanta Fed


April 10, 2015

The Fruits of Our Labor

February 2015 state-level labor market data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) for Sixth District states was solid—on aggregate. Overall, the region contributed 45,900 net payrolls in February, which was 17 percent of the nation's 264,000 payrolls. The combined unemployment rate of District states declined 0.1 percentage point to 6.1 percent. In fact, the unemployment rate fell in all six states, which hasn't occurred in almost two years.

While it's important to look at the aggregate picture when thinking about labor market performance for the entire District, it's also meaningful to hone in on the drivers of that performance. Although the drivers are largely related to the sheer size of the labor force, in the case of February's job growth in Sixth District states, just two states contributed to the bulk of February's job gains (see the chart).

Georgia-payroll-contributions-from-retail

Georgia and Florida carry the weight of job growth
February was a standout month for the Peach State. With 25,400 net payrolls added, Georgia supplied more than half of the jobs of all Sixth District states combined, and was the second largest contributor to job growth in the United States. This over-the-month jobs figure was the most the state added in four years, also crushing its 2014 monthly average of 12,200 net payrolls. Job gains were widespread, but the industries that contributed the most net payrolls in Georgia were retail (up 5,300) and accommodation and food services (up 5,500). In fact, both industries have almost steadily added jobs on net each month in Georgia over the past two years (see the chart).

Georgia-payroll-contributions-from-retail

Not too far behind the Peach State in February was the Orange State, with 19,700 net jobs added. The largest gains came from the government (up 4,800; local government payrolls were up 3,200), retail (up 4,200), and health care and social assistance (up 3,700) sectors. Over the past two years, the retail and health care and social assistance industries, in particular, have contributed solid gains in the state. In reality, Florida has been a consistent contributor to Sixth District jobs growth for several years (see the chart).

Contributions-to-change-net-payrolls-by-sixth-district-state

Where did the other states stand? In addition to Georgia's 25,400 and Florida's 19,700 payrolls in February, Mississippi contributed 3,500 net jobs. The remaining states subtracted from job growth: Louisiana (down 700), Tennessee (down 800), and Alabama (down 1,200).

Unemployment rate declines in all states
All six states in the District experienced a decline in the unemployment rate in February, which hasn't occurred in almost two years (see the chart). The aggregate figure was 6.1 percent, slowly approaching the national rate of 5.5 percent. February rates by state were as follows: Alabama 5.8 percent, Florida 5.6 percent, Georgia 6.3 percent, Louisiana 6.7 percent, Mississippi 7.0 percent, and Tennessee 6.6 percent.

Unemployment-rates-for-us-sixth-district-states

Keeping an eye on developing trends
I'll be paying attention to future data to spot this year's trends in regional labor market indicators and report back here.

Photo of Rebekah DurhamBy Rebekah Durham, economic policy analysis specialis t in the Regional Economic Information Network at the New Orleans Branch of the Atlanta Fed

July 9, 2014

Southeastern States Mind the (Skills) Gap

During the past few years, we have heard from a significant number of regional business contacts about the challenges they experience filling certain positions and concerns about a skills gap facing the Southeast. We heard this from various industries, most often about engineering, construction, and IT jobs. The most recent Southeastern Insights mentions this widespread issue.

This skills shortage situation is not unique to the Southeast. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation published a state-by-state analysis last month measuring performance in a number of areas that contribute to economic prosperity. Their key conclusion reiterates our contacts’ concerns: that mounting skilled-labor shortages are on the horizon to such an extent that they may soon hinder economic growth. According to the study, the current skills gap dilemma is expected to grow substantially as baby boomers retire.  

Fortunately, there’s a bright side: many states have recognized this situation and have taken steps to address the ostensibly approaching workforce crisis. Many of our contacts from both private and public sectors pointed to joint initiatives created by states and businesses designed to confront and abate the situation; which the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation study says is essential to closing the gaps. Below is a sample, extracted from the study, of some of the efforts Sixth District states have taken:

Alabama

  • In 2013, the state launched a College and Career Ready Task Force charged with identifying ways to better prepare students for the workforce by training them in the skills demanded by growing industries across the state.
  • New and expanding businesses can get workforce development services through the Alabama Industrial Development Training program, which offers services to businesses in need of skilled workers, including preemployment selection and training, leadership development courses, and third-party process improvement assessments.
  • The Alabama Technology Network provides skills training for the manufacturing and high technology workforce. The network connects businesses to the portfolio of training resources and programs provided by the state’s colleges and universities, offering services through regional centers.
  • The Go Build Alabama initiative works to attract talented workers to construction and skilled trades.

Florida

  • Quick Response Training enables new and expanding businesses in need of training to partner with community colleges and other educational institutions in the state to develop and deliver workforce training programs.
  • The Incumbent Worker Training program supports training the existing workforce to enhance and maintain competitiveness.
  • The Career and Professional Education Act guides Florida’s efforts to diversify its economy and develop a more skilled workforce by encouraging collaboration among education, industry, workforce, and economic development stakeholders from across the state.

Georgia

  • In early 2014, the state approved a $44.7 million Science Learning Center on the University of Georgia’s South Campus, providing state-of-the-art facilities aimed at expanding the pipeline for students in science, technology, engineering, and math (often referred to collectively as STEM).
  • Groundbreaking also took place for the Georgia BioScience Training Center, which will support training for companies that choose to locate within the state. Georgia Quick Start, the state’s job training program, will build and operate the state-of-the-art biotech training center.

Louisiana

  • Via the Small Business Employee Training Program, employers can receive up to $3,000 to defray the costs of off-the-shelf training programs for an existing employee.
  • The Louisiana Workforce Commission established Workforce Partners to recognize businesses that have committed to building a “job ready” workforce in the state through support and training.
  • The Strategies to Empower People program provides access to job training, job readiness support, vocational education programs, and a variety of other skills-development services for those receiving government assistance.

Mississippi

  • The Workforce Investment Network consists of more than 60 training and employment centers around the state where employers and job seekers can access services like training, job postings, on-the-job training programs, employment screening services, and job placement assistance.
  • The Mississippi Development Authority also maintains a team of workforce specialists who work with colleges, businesses, workforce development professionals, and other stakeholders to identify resources useful to a particular business. The authority also builds partnerships to pursue needed training services.
  • The University of Mississippi maintains a Professional and Workforce Development program, offering online enrichment courses, certification programs, and outreach services, bringing tailored training programs directly to the employer.

Tennessee

  • The Tennessee Job Skills grant program offers support to technology companies that create “high-skill, high-wage” jobs, reimbursing eligible costs incurred in training development implementation.
  • Entrepreneurs in need of quick turnaround in receiving support for training costs can make use of the state’s Job Based Training Reimbursement program, which provides support within the first 90 days after a new job is created and training starts.
  • The FastTrack Job Training Assistance Program offers employers state support to cover costs for classroom instruction, on-the-job training, training-related travel, training vendors, and development of training materials and programming.

Sixth District states appear to be on a solid track to address skills gap challenges, combining investment in training, education, and business assistance as a long-term workforce development strategy. Time will tell if the investment pays off (we should know sooner rather than later, as boomers are expected to start retiring in droves).

To learn more about states’ efforts, as well as their rankings across five policy areas—talent pipeline, exports and international trade, technology and entrepreneurship, business climate, and infrastructure—check out the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation’s study. There’s also a nifty interactive map you can use to view state rankings and data easily.

Photo of Rebekah DurhamBy Rebekah Durham, economic policy analysis specialist in the Atlanta Fed's New Orleans Branch


May 27, 2014

A City of Big Ideas

Here in the Southeast, a buzz has been growing around the idea of innovation. In my hometown, Atlanta, startups have been popping up like weeds. What makes Atlanta a good place to innovate? To start, Atlanta is home to a number of top-tier universities and colleges, including Emory University, Georgia State University, Morehouse College, Spelman College, Agnes Scott College, and Georgia Tech, which U.S. News recently ranked fifth in the country for engineering. The city also boasts one of the fastest-growing urban populations in the country and a cost of living below the national average.

Among recent developments, a study done by the Kaufmann Foundation ranked Atlanta second in the nation in entrepreneurial activity. As well, Georgia companies drew in more than $116 million in venture capital funding in the first quarter of 2014, compared with $46 million just two years earlier. On top of it all, Forbes magazine placed Georgia Tech’s Advanced Technology Development Center (ATDC) on its list of the top 12 Business Incubators Changing the World. So what’s the deal? Is Atlanta becoming the next Silicon Valley? Why has innovation been the buzzword of the last decade here?

A growing consensus holds that innovation is the key to economic growth in developed economies. Innovation enables firms to become more productive and thus increase output without increasing the amount of inputs (labor, capital, etc.). Throughout modern history, the kings of all innovations are the game changers, sometimes referred to as general-purpose technologies. Game changers include inventions including the steam engine, electrical power and, more recently, information and communication technology. Juan Moreno-Cruz, an assistant professor in the school of economics at Georgia Tech, noted that although you can’t always recognize a game changer right away; “there are small things that combine that make general-purpose technologies important.”

Without the small things, general-purpose technologies never become significant, and it’s here that start-ups become important. Stephen Fleming, vice president for economic development and technology ventures and executive director of the Enterprise Innovation Institute (EI2) at Georgia Tech, says that, “Innovation is the reason that they exist.” Part of Fleming’s role is to oversee Georgia Tech’s ATDC, one of the nation’s oldest—it was founded in 1980—and largest business incubators attached to a university. Throughout the years, it has graduated more than 150 companies, which together have acquired over $2 billion in outside financing. “We shelter them from the ups and downs of the market,” says Fleming. “We do this for a while so that the company does not die from the downs.” But how exactly does the ATDC foster innovation in their start-ups? “We allow them the chance to fail.”

This is one of the many things that Fleming feels the U.S. does right. “There is a difference between being a failure and failing. If you fail, you just had a very expensive education on what not to do.” This holds true even for established small and medium-sized enterprises. “Let your people try stuff!” A survey done by PricewaterhouseCoopers asked CEOs which elements are some of the “most important ingredients to successful innovation,” and 57 percent of respondents agreed: “the right culture to foster and support innovation.” Meanwhile, 37 percent also responded by citing a “willingness to challenge norms and take risks.”

So, back to the question at hand: Is Atlanta becoming the next Silicon Valley? Fleming (wearing his “No Valley” button) would answer no; we’re becoming a better version of Silicon Valley that is welcoming to small companies. He points out four parts of our innovation ecosystem that make Atlanta a great place to innovate right now: First, the city has top-tier talent from all of the schools mentioned above. Second, unlike Silicon Valley, the city has the customers for the companies (Atlanta ranks third in the nation among cities with the most Fortune 500 headquarters). Third, customers who aren’t here are just a nonstop flight away, thanks to Hartsfield-Jackson Atlanta International Airport. Fourth and final, Atlanta has plenty of capital to work with.

It’s certainly a compelling case, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it plays out.

By Trevor Lindsay, an economic intern in the Atlanta Fed’s research department


April 29, 2014

Is the Southeast Poised for Tourism Growth?

The Atlanta Fed's Travel and Tourism Advisory Council met at the Miami Branch for the first time this year on April 17. Overall, council members were enthusiastic about economic activity, and its benefits for the tourism sector, in the Southeast.

Georgia and Alabama bounced back from harsh weather conditions in January and February. The outlook for the next three months is positive, with contacts reporting a strong number of bookings and ticket sales. Florida's tourism benefited from the winter weather with travelers seeking warm weather or extending stays as a result of cancelled flights. Fort Lauderdale, in particular, indicated record numbers in February and March.

The Southeast experienced an increase in international tourist activity in 2013, primarily from Latin America and Europe. Participants noted domestic travelers were travel fatigued and are staying closer to home. Consumer spending increased from a year ago, not only in hotel and food expenditures but in retail stores as well. The increase in spending came primarily from luxury restaurants and hotels.

On the horizon for regional travel and tourism
The council discussed the increase in capital expenditures across the region, reporting heavy construction activity in new hotels, sports venues, and other attractions in addition to renovations of restaurants, hotels, and convention centers.

Technology enhancements continue to significantly affect the industry and are being implemented across many segments of the industry. For example, customers can now complete ticket sales for theme parks, sporting events, and other entertainment events as well as reservations for dinner or special services such as spa treatments prior to traveling. Travelers can electronically handle requests for food orders, hotel check-in, beach chair reservations, and maintenance requests once they have reached their destination. (Don't be surprised to find yourself handed an iPad upon arrival at your hotel to facilitate check-ins and any other needs during your stay.)

Tourism markets expand
Interestingly, the council indicated that families are using children's sporting events—like traveling little leagues—as their family vacation. In response to this growing market, the industry is developing special venues and events for these groups to include family- and sports-oriented activities.

The state of Florida is promoting itself as a destination for medical treatment as a way to expand its customer travel industry. The state is proposing legislation to require VISIT FLORIDA, the State's official marketing corporation, to market Florida as a medical destination. Business contacts in the health care field are also heavily marketing health care in the state to countries with an underdeveloped health care sector.

All that said, the travel and tourism sector looks promising in the near term, and new industry developments should enhance the vacation experience for those about to visit the Southeast.

By Marycela Diaz-Unzalu, an economic and financial education specialist in the Miami Branch of the Atlanta Fed