EconSouth (First Quarter 2009)
An Introduction to
Every economist and analyst at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta spends a lot of time analyzing data. Tracking economic indicators is an important component of developing our outlook for the U.S. economy. These data are, however, backward-looking, telling us what has already happened. While this information can help define trends, it cannot provide a complete picture of where the economy is headed. To help fill this gap, we turn to our contacts in the business community throughout the Southeast—people who can offer insight into what is happening in the economy today and their plans for tomorrow.
In 2008 the Atlanta Fed launched the Regional Economic Information Network (REIN) to better coordinate the inflow of economic intelligence into the monetary policymaking process. The brainchild of John Robertson, vice president and senior economist in the Atlanta Fed's research department, REIN can best be described as a set of activities by economists and analysts in Atlanta and by regional executives in the Atlanta Fed branches designed to gather data (both qualitative and quantitative) about the region's economy in a systematic way. These regional data are integrated with national economic data to form a coherent picture of current and prospective macroeconomic conditions.
While many of REIN's functions were already in place, such as the collection of information for the Federal Reserve System's Beige Book and informal surveys of homebuilders, real estate agents, manufacturers, and retailers, we added several new programs and developed new approaches to generate information in support of the formulation and implementation of sound monetary policy.
A vital part of our regional economic intelligence-gathering network remains our head office and branch boards of directors. In addition to our Atlanta board, each of the bank's five branches has its own board of directors. The branch boards share their reports with economists in the research department and with the Atlanta board, which meets the Thursday before each Federal Open Market Committee meeting.
Each of the Atlanta Fed's five branch offices is headed by a regional executive. In addition to working with their boards of directors, these regional executives gather economic intelligence from business contacts throughout their respective geographic areas.
A number of advisory groups also contribute to REIN. The groups, made up of business and thought leaders from significant industries throughout the region, meet twice annually to discuss structural and cyclical issues facing their businesses. Various advisory groups focus on trade and transportation, agriculture, small business, tourism, and energy, and each group is run from one of the branch offices. The New Orleans branch, for example, manages the energy advisory group. The bank is also developing another advisory group to focus on labor, education, and health care issues.
The bank has also tapped an existing pool of economic experts from the Southeast. Through our Local Economic Analysis and Research Network (LEARN), Atlanta Fed staff interact with this network of university-based economists to better understand state and local issues and gain their input on general economic questions we deal with daily.
The amount and quality of economic intelligence incorporated into the monetary policymaking process at the Atlanta Fed have increased because of REIN activities. Regional information flowing into the policymaking process from our boards of directors and regional executives, business contacts, university-based economic specialists, and all our other sources will continue to lead to a better understanding of how our region is performing and will help us better ascertain the outlook for the national economy.
We now have a couple of different ways to share with you some of the REIN information and insights we find so valuable. The first is a section devoted to REIN.
The second is a new section of REIN-related content (see the following sections) that will appear in each issue of this redesigned EconSouth. One feature of this new REIN section provides insight from one of our regional executives. This quarter, Chris Oakley, the regional executive from the Jacksonville Branch, shares his perspectives. Other features that will appear in each issue's REIN section are an update on a particular aspect of a regional economic issue, a summary of the Atlanta Fed's economic indicator for the Southeast, a spotlight on a particular economic sector or indicator, a summary of university research, and a primer on an economic topic.
This introduction was written by Michael Chriszt, assistant vice president and manager of the REIN team.