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.
Tiny Bubbles in Alabama
Do you like to blow bubbles when you're chewing gum? I do. I recently discovered that bubbles are not just fun to blow when you're chewing gum—they can also be a fun and interesting way to visualize data. Yes, I said data. At the Atlanta Fed, we often use bubble charts to track and analyze certain data series. It is particularly helpful when we compare two bubble charts with the same information from different points in time.
In the charts below, which focus on Alabama, each bubble provides a static representation of a given value while also providing comparative information to other industries. The bubble size in these charts illustrates the most recent three-month average of jobs in that industry. The y (vertical) axis shows the three-month average annualized (or short term) job growth, and the x (horizontal) axis shows year-over-year (or long-term) job growth.
The chart is divided into four quadrants. A bubble in the upper-right quadrant (expanding) indicates positive movement in employment (both short- and long-term measures are positive), whereas the lower-left quadrant (contracting) indicates both measures are negative. The upper-left quadrant (improving) indicates the three-month measure is positive, but we're not seeing positive movement year over year. Lastly, the lower-right quadrant (slipping) is positive year over year, but the three-month measure is negative.
As you can see in the first chart, Alabama's leisure and hospitality employment in December 2013 was in the expanding quadrant. We interpret that as this sector has been making gains over the short and long run. This gain stands in contrast to the information sector, which contracted during both the short and long term, putting it firmly in the bottom-left quadrant.
Now, let's take a look at how some of Alabama's industries are doing. In December 2014, the leisure and hospitality sector was still expanding (gaining 8,800 jobs). According to the University of Alabama's Center for Business and Economic Research (CBER), the increase in leisure and hospitality is the result of staffing in food services and drinking places (restaurants, for example). CBER's Ahmad Ijaz said, "Restaurants are adding jobs all across the country."
The construction sector is in an even better position, moving from a contraction in December 2013 to expansion a year later. The Birmingham Business Journal, in an article from January 2015, said "Alabama is ranked eighth among the 50 states and the District of Columbia in construction jobs added." Likewise, the Alabama Department of Labor reported that Alabama "employment in the construction sector is at its highest point since November 2010."
Finally, a look at the manufacturing industry in Alabama also showed notable improvements. In 2013, it seemed like manufacturing employment was easing into the "slipping" quadrant, indicating a short-run slowdown. But 2014 saw it move firmly into the expanding quadrant. CBER's Ijaz tells us that this is the result of the automotive industry adding jobs from October 2013 to October 2014. He said that Alabama is one of the few states adding jobs in this sector. In September 2014, AL.com reported that Alabama's auto industry was projected to grow 2 percent in 2014 while the rest of the U.S. auto industry would contract about 4 percent.
So now that we've scrutinized past data, what are Alabama's employment projections for 2015? According to CBER's latest forecast, Alabama is expected to see stronger growth in employment in 2015 overall. I look forward to comparing bubble charts later in the year. In the meantime, I think I'll grab a piece (or two) of gum.
By Susan Remy, a Regional Economic Information Network analyst at the Birmingham Branch of the Atlanta Fed
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Southeastern Labor Market Continues Strengthening
December 2014 state-level labor market data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reflected a strengthening labor market among Sixth District states, with a declining aggregate unemployment rate and solid job gains.
Unemployment rates decline, albeit modestly
The aggregate district unemployment rate in December was 6.2 percent, a 0.2 percentage point decline from the previous month and 0.5 percentage point lower than a year ago. Although higher than the 5.6 percent national figure, the aggregate rate continues to trend down. In fact, Florida matched the national unemployment rate in December and Alabama came very close (see the chart).
The unemployment rate declined in nearly all southeastern states. Alabama's unemployment rate fell to 5.7 percent, and Florida's rate declined to 5.6 percent, the lowest level in nearly seven years for both states. At 6.9 percent, Georgia's unemployment rate continued on a downward path, as did Tennessee's, with an unemployment rate of 6.6 percent. For the second month in a row, Mississippi had the highest unemployment rate in the United States with 7.2 percent, a distinction the state has taken turns owning with Georgia since June 2014.
In Louisiana, the unemployment rate rose again (for the eighth straight month) to 6.7 percent in December. What's going on there? As I've mentioned a few times (here, here, and here), increases in the labor force are the driver of unemployment rate increases in the state, as opposed to people actually losing jobs on net. This isn't a bad thing, especially considering the state added more than 6,000 jobs in December (I'll discuss that shortly). Louisiana just added more people looking for work than the number of people who found work, hence the increase in unemployment. In fact, from January to December 2014, Louisiana's labor force grew by 4.8 percent (while the number of employed grew by just 2.8 percent). An increase like 4.8 percent may not seem like a big number, but when you look at the national figure of 0.4 percent during the same period, Louisiana's labor force growth stands out. National data released last week for the month of January told a similar story: the unemployment rate ticked up 0.1 percentage point to 5.7 percent from 5.6 percent in December, yet much of this increase can be attributed to labor force gains that outpaced gains in employment.
Payrolls also see modest growth
On net, the District added 47,400 jobs in December, and every state experienced positive job growth (see the chart). This contribution makes up 19 percent of the national payroll contribution of 252,000. On aggregate, the industries that contributed the most net jobs in the Sixth District were professional and business services (up 9,800), health care (up 8,300), and accommodation and food services (up 5,200).
Here are some key state-by-state payroll facts from the December report:
- Alabama added 1,000 net payrolls. Much of the state's contributions were reduced by losses in the professional and business services sector (down by 2,400).
- Florida added 12,700 jobs on net, mostly from the professional and business services (up 5,800) and health care (up 4,900) sectors.
- Georgia contributed 14,100 net payrolls. Gains were widespread, yet the sector contributing the most jobs was health care (up 3,100).
- Louisiana added 6,200 net payrolls. Gains were widespread in this state as well, though the biggest contributor was the accommodation and food services sector (up 1,600).
- Employers in Mississippi added 900 net payrolls. Gains in the professional and business services sector (up 1,100) were reduced by losses in other sectors.
- Tennessee employers added 12,500 net payrolls. The largest increases occurred in the goods-producing (up 5,300) and retail trade (up 2,400) sectors. employers added 12,500 net payrolls. The largest increases occurred in the goods-producing (up 5,300) and retail trade (up 2,400) sectors.
Overall, the report was a sign of improving labor market conditions across the Sixth District states, a trend we hope to see continue into 2015.
By Rebekah Durham, economic policy analysis specialist in the New Orleans Branch of the Atlanta Fed
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What We Heard in Alabama
During the most recent Federal Open Market Committee cycle (which ran from July 31 to September 17), the Atlanta Fed's Regional Economic Information Network (REIN) team at the Birmingham Branch met with business leaders, including branch directors, to discuss economic conditions in Alabama.
General business conditions
Overall, REIN contacts in Alabama see continued slow growth during the next three to six months. We heard accounts of improvement in industrial manufacturing, and commercial construction contacts reported growing demand for office, industrial, and retail space. Contacts in the finance and professional service industries also reported growing demand. Although comments regarding headwinds had grown scarcer during the past few cycles, we heard more mentions of concerns over the effects of “unknowns” from the upcoming elections and international turmoil stemming from recent events in Ukraine and the Middle East.
Employment and labor markets
We heard mixed stories about future hiring plans, ranging from no plans to hire in the near term to substantial hiring plans on the horizon. The chart below illustrates both the short-term and long-term employment momentum by sector. Compared with a year ago, Alabama has seen employment expand in several sectors like manufacturing, construction, health care, private education, and business services. However, sectors such as retail, other services (including automotive repair, personal care services, and business and professional associations, among others), and state government saw momentum contract.
In August, Alabama payrolls increased month over month by a seasonally adjusted 8,400 jobs, on net. All sectors gained except retail, which posted a loss of 1,900 jobs, and federal government, which remained unchanged since July. Alabama has seen overall job growth in the last two months, and August's unemployment rate was 6.9 percent (see the chart).
That rate is down 0.1 percentage point since July, but it's still higher than the national unemployment rate of 6.1 percent (see the chart).
Costs, prices, and wages
In most cases, our contacts reported only modestly increasing input prices, with the exception of construction materials, which have reportedly risen. No contacts reported the ability to significantly raise prices broadly, but more are reporting passing along selective increases where they can. However, growing price pressure was noted in the transportation sector and with the exception of ocean shipping (which has excess capacity), other transportation segments have reached capacity, with prices consequently rising.
When the conversations shifted to wages, many of our contacts reported that although they are not planning to increase wages, they are carefully watching what other companies are doing. No overarching wage pressure was apparent, although there was mention of wage pressure being reported for select, high-skilled positions. Mostly, contacts reported continued modest pay increases.
Availability of credit and investment
Participants told mixed stories regarding investment plans. We heard reports of idled plants being brought back online and some talk of companies beginning to consider investments that would increase production capacity. However, we also heard some discussion about companies that had been investing through the downturn considering moderating investments. Additionally, several contacts noted continued challenges in obtaining financing for smaller builder/developer projects.
Our conversations will continue in Alabama, and we'll relay them to you in the future. In the meantime, what are you hearing?
By Teri Gafford, a REIN director,
and Susan Remy, a REIN analyst, both at the Atlanta Fed's Birmingham Branch
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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:
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
By Rebekah Durham, economic policy analysis specialist in the Atlanta Fed's New Orleans Branch
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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
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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:
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).
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).
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).
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.
By Teri Gafford, a Regional Economic Information Network director in the Atlanta Fed's Birmingham Branch
Mark Carter, a senior economic analyst in the Atlanta Fed's research department
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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).
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).
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).
Finally, pulling back to take a more historical perspective, the Alabama employment situation, while improving, has not reached prerecession levels (see the chart).
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.
By Teri Gafford, a Regional Economic Information Network director in the Atlanta Fed’s Birmingham Branch
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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."
By Mike Chriszt, a vice president in the Atlanta Fed’s public affairs department
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Barons' Help Brightens Birmingham
On April 10, 2013, the Birmingham Barons opened the season at their new location in downtown Birmingham. The new stadium is part of a revitalization effort, built around Railroad Park, which opened in the fall of 2010. The area comprising the Railroad Park and Regions Field is now being referred to as Parkside. The immediate success of the park represents further progress for the city and has changed the minds of many cynics.
The majority of the properties acquired for the ballpark were obtained through a land swap with the University of Alabama at Birmingham (UAB), and the remaining parcels were purchased from private landholders. The ballpark's official groundbreaking ceremony was on February 2, 2012. As reported in The Birmingham News, Birmingham is paying $3.65 million a year over 30 years in annual debt service on the stadium bonds. Bonds were funded by a 3.5 percent increase in the city's lodging tax.
According to the Regional Economic Growth Report from the Birmingham Business Alliance, Birmingham had strong growth in 2012, with 70 companies announcing 3,831 jobs and $843 million in capital investment in the region's primary business sectors. This growth was a substantial improvement over 2011, and local business leaders anticipate Regions Field to be an economic engine behind continued growth.
Overall conditions in the Birmingham metro area have improved since the recession ended, but employment growth had stagnated for much of the past year. But in March and April, Birmingham added 2,400 new jobs. Meanwhile, the area's unemployment rate declined from 6.5 percent to 6.2 percent over the same period.
Also, the Birmingham Business Journal reported that Birmingham jumped 27 spots on the On Numbers Economic Index in May. This number is compiled by American City Business Journals and is formulated from an 18-part measurement system that includes factors such as private-sector job growth, unemployment, construction, and retail activity and earnings.
While the lasting economic impact on the city will not be known for some time, all indications are that the new development will be very positive. According to sources at Regions Field, they have more than doubled the amount of full and part-time staff since their move from Hoover, the Birmingham suburb where the Barons played until this year, and will probably hire more concessions staff as the season progresses. The local brewery has doubled its staff as well. Robert Emerick of REV Birmingham, an economic development organization, says that with renovations, land purchases, residential development, and grants, the immediate estimated impact is approximately $72 million.
Opening day in April was a sellout, and the Barons triumphed over the Mississippi Braves (sorry, Atlanta). The season is going very well with the Barons in first place of the Southern League's North Division, and the future of Parkside is indeed very bright.
By Susan Remy, a Regional Economic Information Network analyst in the Atlanta Fed's Birmingham Branch
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Expansion in Regional Manufacturing Continues
Manufacturing contacts in the Southeast region reported continued expansion for the fourth consecutive month, as reflected in the Southeast Purchasing Managers Index (PMI).
The Southeast PMI, produced by the Econometric Center at Kennesaw State University, provides an analysis of the most current market conditions for the manufacturing sector in Alabama, Georgia, Florida, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Tennessee. The index is based on a survey of representatives from companies in those states regarding trends and activity of new orders, production, employment, supplier delivery time, and finished goods. A reading on this index above 50 represents an expansion in the manufacturing sector, and a reading below 50 indicates a contraction.
This positive trend for manufacturing activity came as a pleasant surprise as the Institute of Supply Management (ISM) Manufacturing Index reported two consecutive drops in the national PMI, suggesting manufacturing growth to have slowed nationally. While Southeast PMI is not a subset of the national index, both measure a mix of similar components by surveying purchasing managers.
The Southeast PMI experienced less than a point increase in April compared with March. Although this increase over the prior period is minimal, the overall index reflected the highest level since May 2012 at 55.5, which is 5.5 points above the of 50-point benchmark. Increases in indices of new orders, production, and employment drove this growth, and each of these components was substantially above its respective measure in the national PMI.
Production experienced the most significant jump of the survey components, with an increase of 5.7 points from March to April, ending at 61.2. Employment jumped 4.1 points during the same period to 57.8. While new orders reflected a much smaller increase of 0.4 points, this minimal increase brings the submeasure to 57.8, well above the expansion benchmark (see the chart).
Of survey participants, 43 percent expect production to be higher in the next three to six months, versus 33 percent for the prior survey period. Although this is not the highest level of optimism reported this year by survey participants, those following the industry welcome these positive sentiments while watching to see if the region will continue to outperform national manufacturing activity.
By Amy Pitts, a senior Regional Economic Information Network analyst in the Atlanta Fed’s Nashville Branch
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