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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.


December 30, 2014

New Orleans Area Optimistic Heading into 2015

During the last couple of months, the Regional Economic Information Network team from the New Orleans Branch of the Atlanta Fed was in contact with more than 30 business leaders to gauge sentiment about current and anticipated economic conditions in the region (which covers central and south Louisiana and Mississippi, south Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle to Apalachicola). The optimism and confidence that our contacts expressed over the last few quarters continued and was in fact more prevalent this time. Although contacts' expectations in previous months were for "slow and steady" growth, many business leaders now feel assured about their outlook for a pickup in growth in 2015.

In particular, we continue to receive upbeat reports about the tourism sector. This time, the message came from the Florida Panhandle again, where it was mentioned that tourism was growing into a year-round business, supported largely by an emergence of international travelers rather than the typical wintertime snowbirds. Retail contacts were also very positive, especially about holiday sales in November but also about a notable general sense of improving consumer sentiment. Another sign of strength in the region was commercial real estate, which was reported as robust across Louisiana, particularly for retail, multifamily, and office space leasing and development.

Employment and labor markets
Generally, contacts continued to report positive net hiring in response to increases in demand, though they didn't report acceleration from previous months. We continue to receive reports about firms' efforts to use automated solutions to reduce staffing or conduct optimization studies to enhance efficiency while reducing costs. Once again, contacts noted major challenges filling certain skilled positions, such as trades workers, engineers, truck drivers, and information technology professionals—a predicament business contacts have expressed for more than a year.

Costs, wages, and prices
For several months now, contacts have reported some cost pressures with little pricing power. In most cases, firms have been able to increase prices only after a competitor successfully does so or when contracts are up for renegotiation. Regarding the declining price of oil, energy industry representatives shared their view of the impact on their industry, which they indicated would initially affect smaller players (described in a recent SouthPoint post). In addition, a few contacts noted that declining energy prices posed a risk to their 2015 outlook. For the first time in many months, a number of contacts reported across-the-board wage pressures, which were previously isolated to certain positions. Others indicated they expect to encounter pressure in 2015. Several firms we spoke with indicated they expanded merit program budgets in 2015, with most increases being in the range of 2.5 to 3 percent, though a few in the range of 3 to 5 percent. Though a number of firms reported they were investigating strategies to control compensation costs with tools such as performance-based incentives, health care contributions, and targeted salary increases—a trend we've noted over the last couple of quarters.

Availability of credit and investment
Access to capital and availability of credit remained a nonissue for the majority of our contacts, though some small firms indicated obtaining credit from traditional banks remained difficult because of qualification requirements. Banking contacts indicated that loan demand strengthened in the third quarter. Capital investment reports were consistent with the last few cycles, reflecting some expansion activity but mostly focused on efficiency or maintenance.

Business outlook
Although some contacts noted a bit of uncertainty about the outlook—including the declining price of oil, increased government regulations, and the strengthening U.S. dollar—contacts were overall positive and confident about 2015 expectations. What's your outlook for 2015?

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

May 20, 2014

Jazz Fest: Another Capital Boost in New Orleans

In March, I wrote about the impact of Mardi Gras on the New Orleans economy. Well, in case you didn’t know this already, we love our festivals here in NOLA. The fact that they support our economy is just lagniappe (that’s “a little something extra” in New Orleans–speak). Second only to Mardi Gras in terms of economic impact is the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, or “Jazz Fest,” which this year spanned two spring weekends: April 27–29 and May 3–6. The festival attracts about 400,000 people each year, who come to hear eclectic musical performances (from blues, jazz and rock to gospel, zydeco, pop, and more) and eat some of the best local food around (crawfish monica, alligator pie, shrimp bread, and cochon de lait, to name a few).

According to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Foundation Inc., the nonprofit organization that owns and manages the event, Jazz Fest generates more than $300 million for the city. This figure includes spending at the festival, Jazz Fest staff wages, hotel rooms, and estimated spending at restaurants and other shops and activities. The foundation uses the profits from the festival to preserve the city’s musical culture by putting on other festivals and concerts (smaller and free), lectures and literary events, gallery exhibits, educational programs, and grants for students and community cultural organizations. So you could say that Jazz Fest not only has a positive economic impact on New Orleans but also a significant human capital contribution as well.

If you haven’t been to Jazz Fest yet, make plans to come next year. And remember, your contribution produces economic value in the form of financial and human capital.

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


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


March 4, 2014

Does Fat Tuesday Give New Orleans a Fat Wallet?

"Happy Mardi Gras!" is what's been enthusiastically shouted across the streets of New Orleans the past couple of weeks. Well, there's that and "Throw me something, Mister!" It's Mardi Gras season—a time of king cakes, wild and crazy Bourbon Street, and extravagant parades that include musicians, dancers, and colorful floats filled with masked locals who throw shiny plastic beads and trinkets to excited crowds. Though it may seem like a haze of decadence and chaos spanning two weeks in New Orleans, a lot of planning and money from locals and tourists alike goes into this lively time of year. More than a million people pack the city's streets during the two weeks leading up to Mardi Gras day, also known as Fat Tuesday (which falls on March 4 this year). So, what does Mardi Gras mean to the local economy?

In 2009, the Carnival Krewe Civic Foundation Inc. commissioned a biennial study of the economic impact of Mardi Gras. Tulane University economics professor Toni Weiss prepared the 2009 and 2011 reports. However, in 2013, New Orleans hosted the Super Bowl during Mardi Gras season, making it difficult to separate the economic effects of the two events. Therefore, the next study will reflect 2014 data.

According to the 2011 report, the economic impact on the city was $300 million, accounting for 1.5 percent of New Orleans's gross domestic product. It's worth noting that this figure is likely understated as it does not include incremental restaurant business, airport usage, or any businesses' fixed investment. It may also underestimate local citizens' Mardi Gras–related spending. Weiss evaluated seven main categories in the study: lodging and nonlodging, food and alcohol, merchandise, Mardi Gras–themed tours, Krewes (organizations of revelers who put on the parades, host Mardi Gras balls, and participate in social events throughout the year), Krewe members (the aforementioned revelers who spend their own money on the events), and the city government. Direct expenditures from these categories during the 2011 Mardi Gras season were an estimated $144 million.

So where did the other $156 million come from? According to Weiss, the Mardi Gras "franchise" the city created accounts for the difference. It includes an extensive infrastructure of lodging, food and drinking establishments, retail shops selling themed merchandise, and other factors from which other events and businesses (for example, conventions unrelated to Mardi Gras specifically) could benefit. The net fiscal benefit to the city was more than $13 million, or a return of $8.45 for every city dollar spent.

If you ask me, that's a pretty sizable return on investment—enough to fatten the city's wallet quite a bit.

Weiss's team will begin collecting data on the 2014 Mardi Gras season in a couple of weeks, and I look forward to seeing what the new results show.

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


December 30, 2014

New Orleans Area Optimistic Heading into 2015

During the last couple of months, the Regional Economic Information Network team from the New Orleans Branch of the Atlanta Fed was in contact with more than 30 business leaders to gauge sentiment about current and anticipated economic conditions in the region (which covers central and south Louisiana and Mississippi, south Alabama, and the Florida Panhandle to Apalachicola). The optimism and confidence that our contacts expressed over the last few quarters continued and was in fact more prevalent this time. Although contacts' expectations in previous months were for "slow and steady" growth, many business leaders now feel assured about their outlook for a pickup in growth in 2015.

In particular, we continue to receive upbeat reports about the tourism sector. This time, the message came from the Florida Panhandle again, where it was mentioned that tourism was growing into a year-round business, supported largely by an emergence of international travelers rather than the typical wintertime snowbirds. Retail contacts were also very positive, especially about holiday sales in November but also about a notable general sense of improving consumer sentiment. Another sign of strength in the region was commercial real estate, which was reported as robust across Louisiana, particularly for retail, multifamily, and office space leasing and development.

Employment and labor markets
Generally, contacts continued to report positive net hiring in response to increases in demand, though they didn't report acceleration from previous months. We continue to receive reports about firms' efforts to use automated solutions to reduce staffing or conduct optimization studies to enhance efficiency while reducing costs. Once again, contacts noted major challenges filling certain skilled positions, such as trades workers, engineers, truck drivers, and information technology professionals—a predicament business contacts have expressed for more than a year.

Costs, wages, and prices
For several months now, contacts have reported some cost pressures with little pricing power. In most cases, firms have been able to increase prices only after a competitor successfully does so or when contracts are up for renegotiation. Regarding the declining price of oil, energy industry representatives shared their view of the impact on their industry, which they indicated would initially affect smaller players (described in a recent SouthPoint post). In addition, a few contacts noted that declining energy prices posed a risk to their 2015 outlook. For the first time in many months, a number of contacts reported across-the-board wage pressures, which were previously isolated to certain positions. Others indicated they expect to encounter pressure in 2015. Several firms we spoke with indicated they expanded merit program budgets in 2015, with most increases being in the range of 2.5 to 3 percent, though a few in the range of 3 to 5 percent. Though a number of firms reported they were investigating strategies to control compensation costs with tools such as performance-based incentives, health care contributions, and targeted salary increases—a trend we've noted over the last couple of quarters.

Availability of credit and investment
Access to capital and availability of credit remained a nonissue for the majority of our contacts, though some small firms indicated obtaining credit from traditional banks remained difficult because of qualification requirements. Banking contacts indicated that loan demand strengthened in the third quarter. Capital investment reports were consistent with the last few cycles, reflecting some expansion activity but mostly focused on efficiency or maintenance.

Business outlook
Although some contacts noted a bit of uncertainty about the outlook—including the declining price of oil, increased government regulations, and the strengthening U.S. dollar—contacts were overall positive and confident about 2015 expectations. What's your outlook for 2015?

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

May 20, 2014

Jazz Fest: Another Capital Boost in New Orleans

In March, I wrote about the impact of Mardi Gras on the New Orleans economy. Well, in case you didn’t know this already, we love our festivals here in NOLA. The fact that they support our economy is just lagniappe (that’s “a little something extra” in New Orleans–speak). Second only to Mardi Gras in terms of economic impact is the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival, or “Jazz Fest,” which this year spanned two spring weekends: April 27–29 and May 3–6. The festival attracts about 400,000 people each year, who come to hear eclectic musical performances (from blues, jazz and rock to gospel, zydeco, pop, and more) and eat some of the best local food around (crawfish monica, alligator pie, shrimp bread, and cochon de lait, to name a few).

According to the New Orleans Jazz and Heritage Festival and Foundation Inc., the nonprofit organization that owns and manages the event, Jazz Fest generates more than $300 million for the city. This figure includes spending at the festival, Jazz Fest staff wages, hotel rooms, and estimated spending at restaurants and other shops and activities. The foundation uses the profits from the festival to preserve the city’s musical culture by putting on other festivals and concerts (smaller and free), lectures and literary events, gallery exhibits, educational programs, and grants for students and community cultural organizations. So you could say that Jazz Fest not only has a positive economic impact on New Orleans but also a significant human capital contribution as well.

If you haven’t been to Jazz Fest yet, make plans to come next year. And remember, your contribution produces economic value in the form of financial and human capital.

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


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


March 4, 2014

Does Fat Tuesday Give New Orleans a Fat Wallet?

"Happy Mardi Gras!" is what's been enthusiastically shouted across the streets of New Orleans the past couple of weeks. Well, there's that and "Throw me something, Mister!" It's Mardi Gras season—a time of king cakes, wild and crazy Bourbon Street, and extravagant parades that include musicians, dancers, and colorful floats filled with masked locals who throw shiny plastic beads and trinkets to excited crowds. Though it may seem like a haze of decadence and chaos spanning two weeks in New Orleans, a lot of planning and money from locals and tourists alike goes into this lively time of year. More than a million people pack the city's streets during the two weeks leading up to Mardi Gras day, also known as Fat Tuesday (which falls on March 4 this year). So, what does Mardi Gras mean to the local economy?

In 2009, the Carnival Krewe Civic Foundation Inc. commissioned a biennial study of the economic impact of Mardi Gras. Tulane University economics professor Toni Weiss prepared the 2009 and 2011 reports. However, in 2013, New Orleans hosted the Super Bowl during Mardi Gras season, making it difficult to separate the economic effects of the two events. Therefore, the next study will reflect 2014 data.

According to the 2011 report, the economic impact on the city was $300 million, accounting for 1.5 percent of New Orleans's gross domestic product. It's worth noting that this figure is likely understated as it does not include incremental restaurant business, airport usage, or any businesses' fixed investment. It may also underestimate local citizens' Mardi Gras–related spending. Weiss evaluated seven main categories in the study: lodging and nonlodging, food and alcohol, merchandise, Mardi Gras–themed tours, Krewes (organizations of revelers who put on the parades, host Mardi Gras balls, and participate in social events throughout the year), Krewe members (the aforementioned revelers who spend their own money on the events), and the city government. Direct expenditures from these categories during the 2011 Mardi Gras season were an estimated $144 million.

So where did the other $156 million come from? According to Weiss, the Mardi Gras "franchise" the city created accounts for the difference. It includes an extensive infrastructure of lodging, food and drinking establishments, retail shops selling themed merchandise, and other factors from which other events and businesses (for example, conventions unrelated to Mardi Gras specifically) could benefit. The net fiscal benefit to the city was more than $13 million, or a return of $8.45 for every city dollar spent.

If you ask me, that's a pretty sizable return on investment—enough to fatten the city's wallet quite a bit.

Weiss's team will begin collecting data on the 2014 Mardi Gras season in a couple of weeks, and I look forward to seeing what the new results show.

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