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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.


The Gulf oil spill and northwest Florida

Several universities in the region have shared their thoughts and ideas concerning the economic impact of the Gulf oil spill. As members of the Atlanta Fed's Local Economic Analysis and Research Network (LEARN), these experts provide valuable insight into local economic conditions. This week's SouthPoint highlights one such contributor, Dr. Rick Harper, director of the Haas Center for Business Research and Economic Development at the University of West Florida.

In addition to the direct negative economic impacts resulting from the spill on sectors such as tourism and commercial fishing, Dr. Harper notes in a recent report that

"It will also be seen in diminished asset values that reflect expected future lost profitability due to the damage to their income-producing potential. Above and beyond these market transactions, it will be seen in lost well-being of residents, visitors, and others who value our natural assets."

Measuring the direct impact on tourism is complicated by the fact that the Gulf Coast is largely a "drive-to" destination and that many vacationers do not plan their trips far in advance. As a result, Harper contends that

"[F]ears that the oil spill may reach our [northwest Florida] shores this spring or summer is clearly causing visitors to change their summer vacation plans. For potential visitors, alternative vacation destinations or activities instead of a Florida Gulf Coast beach vacation become much more attractive once the risk of encountering the ongoing oil spill is factored in."

Much of the focus on the spill's impact on the tourism sector has focused on 2010. But Dr. Harper points out that not only is the current season in jeopardy, but there are possible implications beyond this year.

"Under the best-case scenario, in which the spill is completely stopped and it never reaches our shores, this negative impact to the Florida visitor industry may be largely limited to the 2010 summer season. If the spill does reach our shores, affected areas are likely to suffer longer-lived damage to one of our most valuable income-generating assets—the Florida brand image of pristine beaches, beautiful marshes, and abundant fish and wildlife."

Harper's conclusion recognizes the fact that the economic impact of the oil spill on Florida cannot yet be calculated with precision.

"However, the effect will be substantial, even if the spill never reaches our shores, because of the important role that perceptions play in planning and decision-making for our customers. The effects will be seen first in our visitor industry, including all of the businesses that rely on visitor spending in the key summer season. Those effects will have collateral damage as they ripple through the economy. Changes in asset values will be more severe if the perceptions of risk and damage are more pronounced and non-market valuations of environmental amenities will also suffer. The fiscal impact to local and state government will be seen in reduced revenue and increased spending. These effects will only become larger should a hurricane or tropical storm exacerbate the potential for damage. The more quickly the oil flow can be completely stopped, and the spill contained, the less the damage will be."

By Michael Chriszt, assistant vice president in the Atlanta Fed's research department