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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 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 25, 2014

Regional Payroll Growth Rebounds in March

According to last week's regional and state employment report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Sixth District states added 41,500 payrolls on net in March, and the unemployment rate rose slightly from 6.4 percent to 6.5 percent. This month's release also came with an upward revision to February data that indicated the District added 40,500 jobs that month, about 6,100 payrolls higher than the original February estimate. The table gives a state-by-state breakdown of payroll revisions:

140425_tbl1

The new March data and revised February data appear to be another step in the right direction and perhaps give a somewhat stronger signal that the region's labor markets are gaining some traction after experiencing a few months of slower job growth earlier in the year, a pattern not uncommon over the last few years. Not surprisingly, we've seen a similar pattern in the national data as well (see the chart).


Payroll survey
Once again, Florida was the primary driver of Sixth District payroll growth in March, adding 22,900 payrolls, with Georgia seeing a nice rebound (up 14,600) from February's negative payroll growth (when it was down 5,800). The only state to lose jobs from February to March was Mississippi, which shed 1,400 payrolls. This was the fourth straight month of net payroll losses in that state.

Florida's net payroll gain was the largest one-month addition of any state in the nation, according to the BLS report, and was driven by the leisure and hospitality sector (up 9,500), health care (up 3,300), construction (up 1,900) and manufacturing (up 1,500), and Georgia's net payroll gain—the third-largest of any U.S. state—was driven by retail (up 3,800), the professional and business services sector (up 3,300), and health care (up 3,200).

As for other District states, Tennessee experienced a modest gain in payrolls in March, adding 4,200 jobs. With the largest revision of any Sixth District state, Tennessee's February net payrolls were revised up 3,400 payrolls for a total of 10,300 payrolls. Tennessee's payroll growth over the two-month period of February and March was primarily concentrated in professional and business services (up 6,800 payrolls). Louisiana and Alabama respectively added 900 and 300 jobs in March (see the chart).


Household survey
The aggregate unemployment rate for the Sixth District rose from 6.4 percent to 6.5 percent in March. Half of the six District states experienced an increase in their unemployment rates (Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi), and Louisiana's rate remained unchanged, Georgia's fell from 7.1 percent to 7.0 percent, and Tennessee's fell from 6.9 percent to 6.7 percent (see the table).

140425_tbl2

Want to find out how many jobs it would take to lower the unemployment rate in any of the 50 states? Check out the Atlanta Fed's State Jobs Calculator.

The BLS's next regional and state employment report, which will reflect April data, will be released May 16.

Photo of Teri GaffordBy Teri Gafford, a Regional Economic Information Network director in the Atlanta Fed's Birmingham Branch

 

and

Photo of Mark CarterMark Carter, a senior economic analyst in the Atlanta Fed's research department


February 19, 2014

Stop, Look, and Listen

We here at the Birmingham Branch of the Atlanta Fed talk to a lot of folks about Alabama’s economy. But when I say we talk, what I should say is we stop and listen, and our contacts have plenty to say.

Recent conversations with Alabama contacts do not indicate accelerated hiring levels in our state. Dennis Lockhart, president of the Atlanta Fed, was recently in town speaking to the Birmingham Rotary and had this to say about December’s national jobs report:

It came in at a 74,000 net gain. A number closer to 190,000 was expected. My reaction—and that of many of my colleagues—was to "look through" the December jobs report and assume the economy remains on the higher growth track enjoyed in the second half of 2013.

Note: President Lockhart was in Birmingham on Wednesday, February 5, two days before the release of the January jobs data, which were better than December but not as large as hoped. (The economy added 113,000 jobs in January 2014.)

In that context, I took a look at Alabama’s employment numbers and found that job gains have occurred in each of the last three months, with December showing a gain of 4,800 jobs in Alabama (see the chart).

2013 Contributions to Change in Net Payrolls, Alabama

A deeper look at payroll employment in Alabama shows that although leisure and hospitality and education and health care jobs have surpassed prerecession levels, other sectors have not fared as well, particularly the information and construction industries (see the chart).

Employment Loss and Gain by Industry: Alabama

And though we know that job losses occurred throughout the state, all of Alabama’s metro areas have slowly begun to rebound. The Auburn-Opelika and Tuscaloosa areas—both home to large state universities—have regained the level of jobs that were lost during the recession (see the chart).

Employment Loss and Gain by Metro Area: Alabama

Finally, pulling back to take a more historical perspective, the Alabama employment situation, while improving, has not reached prerecession levels (see the chart).

Alabama Payroll Employment

On a bright note, there are definitely some positive hiring stories, most recently in the automotive sector. And although we continue to hear stories of shortages for certain skilled laborers, we also hear about creative ways Alabama employers and educators are partnering to update and align training with the skills that are needed for jobs today and in the future.

The number of jobs regained since the recession ended is only one of many ways to assess the health of the labor market. On a national level, the Atlanta Fed looks at many facets and has developed an interesting (and regularly updated) visual depiction that gives a much broader view: our labor market spider chart.

Meanwhile, here at the Fed, we will continue to supplement our analysis of state and national economic data by listening to what people are telling us about their own experiences.

Photo of Teri GaffordBy Teri Gafford, a Regional Economic Information Network director in the Atlanta Fed’s Birmingham Branch


October 1, 2013

Alabama Economy Improving

Alabama's economy could be poised for a modest upswing. During a recent presentation before a group of women entrepreneurs, Lesley McClure, the regional executive at the Atlanta Fed’s Birmingham Branch, said several of the state’s economic indicators were looking up. Notably, Alabama's unemployment rate (seen in the chart below) exceeded 10 percent in 2010 but declined to 6.3 percent by August 2013.



In addition, employment growth was up 2.1 percent from its lowest level during the recession. Importantly, however, total employment in the state declined by 7.7 percent during the recession, so there’s still a lot of ground to make up in the state's labor market. The chart below shows the employment decline Alabama and its major metro areas experienced during the downturn (red bars) and the gains logged during the recovery (blue bars).



Nationally, Lesley reported that labor market conditions have shown some improvement in recent months. Nevertheless, while the national unemployment rate has dropped to 7.3 percent, broad labor market conditions remain mixed. Some indicators are showing progress, but others still signal scant improvement. Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart noted this fact in a speech earlier this week, noting that:

Significant progress has been accomplished just in the past year. The official unemployment rate has fallen from 8.1 percent to 7.3 percent, and payroll employment has grown by about 2.2 million jobs. Payroll job gains for the past 12 months have averaged 184,000 per month, but recently there appears to have been some slowing. The monthly average for the most recent three months is 148,000.

All outreach activities, like Lesley’s speech, include time for discussion and audience questions. On this occasion, Lesley heard several comments about how economic uncertainty was affecting business planning.

"Most of the attendees were small business owners, and they are very concerned about the economic outlook," Lesley said. "It was an important reminder to me of just how fast unforeseen developments can alter a business owner’s view of future prospects. As we make our economic forecasts, it’s important that we do so with this in mind."

Photo of Mike ChrisztBy Mike Chriszt, a vice president in the Atlanta Fed’s public affairs 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 25, 2014

Regional Payroll Growth Rebounds in March

According to last week's regional and state employment report from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS), Sixth District states added 41,500 payrolls on net in March, and the unemployment rate rose slightly from 6.4 percent to 6.5 percent. This month's release also came with an upward revision to February data that indicated the District added 40,500 jobs that month, about 6,100 payrolls higher than the original February estimate. The table gives a state-by-state breakdown of payroll revisions:

140425_tbl1

The new March data and revised February data appear to be another step in the right direction and perhaps give a somewhat stronger signal that the region's labor markets are gaining some traction after experiencing a few months of slower job growth earlier in the year, a pattern not uncommon over the last few years. Not surprisingly, we've seen a similar pattern in the national data as well (see the chart).


Payroll survey
Once again, Florida was the primary driver of Sixth District payroll growth in March, adding 22,900 payrolls, with Georgia seeing a nice rebound (up 14,600) from February's negative payroll growth (when it was down 5,800). The only state to lose jobs from February to March was Mississippi, which shed 1,400 payrolls. This was the fourth straight month of net payroll losses in that state.

Florida's net payroll gain was the largest one-month addition of any state in the nation, according to the BLS report, and was driven by the leisure and hospitality sector (up 9,500), health care (up 3,300), construction (up 1,900) and manufacturing (up 1,500), and Georgia's net payroll gain—the third-largest of any U.S. state—was driven by retail (up 3,800), the professional and business services sector (up 3,300), and health care (up 3,200).

As for other District states, Tennessee experienced a modest gain in payrolls in March, adding 4,200 jobs. With the largest revision of any Sixth District state, Tennessee's February net payrolls were revised up 3,400 payrolls for a total of 10,300 payrolls. Tennessee's payroll growth over the two-month period of February and March was primarily concentrated in professional and business services (up 6,800 payrolls). Louisiana and Alabama respectively added 900 and 300 jobs in March (see the chart).


Household survey
The aggregate unemployment rate for the Sixth District rose from 6.4 percent to 6.5 percent in March. Half of the six District states experienced an increase in their unemployment rates (Alabama, Florida, and Mississippi), and Louisiana's rate remained unchanged, Georgia's fell from 7.1 percent to 7.0 percent, and Tennessee's fell from 6.9 percent to 6.7 percent (see the table).

140425_tbl2

Want to find out how many jobs it would take to lower the unemployment rate in any of the 50 states? Check out the Atlanta Fed's State Jobs Calculator.

The BLS's next regional and state employment report, which will reflect April data, will be released May 16.

Photo of Teri GaffordBy Teri Gafford, a Regional Economic Information Network director in the Atlanta Fed's Birmingham Branch

 

and

Photo of Mark CarterMark Carter, a senior economic analyst in the Atlanta Fed's research department


February 19, 2014

Stop, Look, and Listen

We here at the Birmingham Branch of the Atlanta Fed talk to a lot of folks about Alabama’s economy. But when I say we talk, what I should say is we stop and listen, and our contacts have plenty to say.

Recent conversations with Alabama contacts do not indicate accelerated hiring levels in our state. Dennis Lockhart, president of the Atlanta Fed, was recently in town speaking to the Birmingham Rotary and had this to say about December’s national jobs report:

It came in at a 74,000 net gain. A number closer to 190,000 was expected. My reaction—and that of many of my colleagues—was to "look through" the December jobs report and assume the economy remains on the higher growth track enjoyed in the second half of 2013.

Note: President Lockhart was in Birmingham on Wednesday, February 5, two days before the release of the January jobs data, which were better than December but not as large as hoped. (The economy added 113,000 jobs in January 2014.)

In that context, I took a look at Alabama’s employment numbers and found that job gains have occurred in each of the last three months, with December showing a gain of 4,800 jobs in Alabama (see the chart).

2013 Contributions to Change in Net Payrolls, Alabama

A deeper look at payroll employment in Alabama shows that although leisure and hospitality and education and health care jobs have surpassed prerecession levels, other sectors have not fared as well, particularly the information and construction industries (see the chart).

Employment Loss and Gain by Industry: Alabama

And though we know that job losses occurred throughout the state, all of Alabama’s metro areas have slowly begun to rebound. The Auburn-Opelika and Tuscaloosa areas—both home to large state universities—have regained the level of jobs that were lost during the recession (see the chart).

Employment Loss and Gain by Metro Area: Alabama

Finally, pulling back to take a more historical perspective, the Alabama employment situation, while improving, has not reached prerecession levels (see the chart).

Alabama Payroll Employment

On a bright note, there are definitely some positive hiring stories, most recently in the automotive sector. And although we continue to hear stories of shortages for certain skilled laborers, we also hear about creative ways Alabama employers and educators are partnering to update and align training with the skills that are needed for jobs today and in the future.

The number of jobs regained since the recession ended is only one of many ways to assess the health of the labor market. On a national level, the Atlanta Fed looks at many facets and has developed an interesting (and regularly updated) visual depiction that gives a much broader view: our labor market spider chart.

Meanwhile, here at the Fed, we will continue to supplement our analysis of state and national economic data by listening to what people are telling us about their own experiences.

Photo of Teri GaffordBy Teri Gafford, a Regional Economic Information Network director in the Atlanta Fed’s Birmingham Branch


October 1, 2013

Alabama Economy Improving

Alabama's economy could be poised for a modest upswing. During a recent presentation before a group of women entrepreneurs, Lesley McClure, the regional executive at the Atlanta Fed’s Birmingham Branch, said several of the state’s economic indicators were looking up. Notably, Alabama's unemployment rate (seen in the chart below) exceeded 10 percent in 2010 but declined to 6.3 percent by August 2013.



In addition, employment growth was up 2.1 percent from its lowest level during the recession. Importantly, however, total employment in the state declined by 7.7 percent during the recession, so there’s still a lot of ground to make up in the state's labor market. The chart below shows the employment decline Alabama and its major metro areas experienced during the downturn (red bars) and the gains logged during the recovery (blue bars).



Nationally, Lesley reported that labor market conditions have shown some improvement in recent months. Nevertheless, while the national unemployment rate has dropped to 7.3 percent, broad labor market conditions remain mixed. Some indicators are showing progress, but others still signal scant improvement. Atlanta Fed President Dennis Lockhart noted this fact in a speech earlier this week, noting that:

Significant progress has been accomplished just in the past year. The official unemployment rate has fallen from 8.1 percent to 7.3 percent, and payroll employment has grown by about 2.2 million jobs. Payroll job gains for the past 12 months have averaged 184,000 per month, but recently there appears to have been some slowing. The monthly average for the most recent three months is 148,000.

All outreach activities, like Lesley’s speech, include time for discussion and audience questions. On this occasion, Lesley heard several comments about how economic uncertainty was affecting business planning.

"Most of the attendees were small business owners, and they are very concerned about the economic outlook," Lesley said. "It was an important reminder to me of just how fast unforeseen developments can alter a business owner’s view of future prospects. As we make our economic forecasts, it’s important that we do so with this in mind."

Photo of Mike ChrisztBy Mike Chriszt, a vice president in the Atlanta Fed’s public affairs department