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08/06/2014

Sunnier Times in the Sunshine State

During the most recent cycle of the Federal Open Market Committee (which ran from June 19 to July 30), the Atlanta Fed’s Regional Economic Information Network (REIN) team at the Jacksonville Branch talked with more than 30 Florida business leaders, including branch directors, about economic conditions. As one who has been involved with the REIN program since its inception in 2008, I can attest that, while “slow and steady” remains a theme in this economic recovery, the sentiment of our contacts over the past two months has been the most upbeat since before the recession.

General business conditions
Almost all firms reported increases in business activity. Two design/build firms indicated robust demand and reasonably strong pipelines, including a strengthening in industrial and office development. For the first time, we heard of some speculative building in the commercial sector from three different contacts. Housing continued its slow improvement, though several contacts used the word “bumpy” to describe activity. The appetite for auto purchases continued, as a recent SouthPoint post discussed, with lenders citing robust auto-lending activity. Some banks also reported that consumers are now slowly adding to outstanding credit card balances.

Employment and hiring
Labor markets tightened as the number and types of difficult-to-fill positions increased. In addition to highly skilled positions that are normally a challenge to fill (including information technology and engineering), contacts shared frustrations with filling midlevel positions such as analysts. In construction, finding subcontractors and skilled laborers was harder than normal. However, one contact saw a 20 percent annual increase in revenue as clients resumed a normal hiring pace.

Labor and input costs
Contacts reported seeing wage pressures in their organizations. For example, demand for truck drivers that one firm described as “significant” led to a 33 percent pay increase since the beginning of 2014. One retail contact reported wage increases for maintenance positions as the “construction boom in the area lures these workers away.” Most contacts previously noted merit programs of between 2–3 percent. However, for the first time, several contacts discussed plans for more aggressive increases of 4–5 percent. Regarding health care, most anticipate premiums to continue growing significantly, and many have self-insured to mitigate rising costs.

Most contacts described nonlabor input cost increases as benign. Although the cost of some construction-related materials was a cause for concern earlier this year, most of this volatility has dissipated. While most contacts do not claim much pricing power, some companies are seeing improved margins as they are able to push through increases in the form of higher sales prices.

Credit and investment
Contacts at medium and large companies noted that while credit is readily available, many are still risk-averse and avoiding taking on debt, relying instead on cash flow or internal reserves to fund projects. Companies that do borrow are undergoing “rigorous but rational underwriting.” One construction contact said that many of his larger clients are no longer just catching up from the recession but are now willing to take risk and invest in adding capacity. A bank also reported more risk-taking among customers, especially in commercial real estate and equipment leasing. At the consumer level, real estate agents and lenders referred to qualified mortgages as something of an impediment to mortgage loan activity, but they generally viewed the more rigorous process as worth the effort to reduce risk.

Since June, the consensus from REIN contacts at the Jacksonville Branch was largely positive. Overall demand conditions have improved, though some expressed concerns about regulatory impact. Some contacts specifically mentioned dissipating headwinds as a reason for increased investment, including one contact who sees enough improvement in the economic environment that the company has changed its strategy from diversification to more rapidly expanding its footprint with aggressive new revenue goals.

Does this jibe with what you, our readers, are seeing? As always, your thoughts are welcome.

By Sarah Arteaga, a Regional Economic Information Network director in the Atlanta Fed's Jacksonville Branch

August 6, 2014 in Economic conditions, Employment, Florida, Health Care, Jobs, Labor Markets, Recession, Recovery | Permalink

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07/09/2014

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:

Alabama

  • 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.

Florida

  • 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.

Georgia

  • 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.

Louisiana

  • 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.

Mississippi

  • 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.

Tennessee

  • 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.

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


July 9, 2014 in Alabama, Education, Florida, Georgia, Jobs, Labor Markets, Louisiana, Mississippi, Southeast, Tennessee | Permalink

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07/07/2014

To Buy or Not to Buy, That Is the Question (for Millennials)

In the last month, the South Florida Business Journal reported on the announcement of at least three new apartment projects:

  • June 18: Developers plan 300 apartments in Midtown Miami
  • June 19: Lennar plans 229 apartments in Boca Raton after $7.5M purchase
  • June 23: Broward commissioners to vote on 400-apartment project

Data from the real estate analytics firm REIS indicate that 2,425 new apartment units were completed in Miami in 2013. Not only is this noteworthy because this represents the most units delivered per year since 1991 but also because nearly all of the units were absorbed. More than 600 units have been delivered so far in 2014, and close to 3,000 units remain under construction. Despite this comeback in Miami apartment construction, the apartment vacancy rate ended the first quarter at 3.8 percent and is expected to remain at this low level for an extended period. Is apartment construction heating up in South Florida as a result of a change in fundamental beliefs of the rising generation?

According to an article featured in the latest issue of the Atlanta Fed's EconSouth, the generation known as the millennials is showing signs of veering from established patterns, particularly when it comes to milestones like moving out of the parents' house, getting married, and buying a home. Many experts, including Atlanta Fed economist Tim Dunne (who has written extensively on the topic, including this article), acknowledge that economic conditions are partly to blame for these delayed decisions.

But are these decisions only being delayed, or have preferences changed? Reports from some Atlanta Fed business contacts suggest that attitudes and preferences may in fact be changing. Some business contacts report that, unlike previous generations, millennial employees are often unwilling to commit long term to one organization, preferring instead nonmonetary perks such as flex time over higher pay, and they place great value on work-life balance. Moreover, real estate business contacts in South Florida have noted that millennials prefer the "experience" that often comes with high-end apartments, such as amenities including dining and shopping, rather than a traditional home in a suburban setting.

More than shifting preferences may be at work, though. According to Fannie Mae’s national housing survey, conducted in May 2014, potential first-time homebuyers are facing several challenges that inhibit their ability to purchase a home. Although the survey does confirm that the number of renters has increased on a national basis, and the number of homeowners has declined, since the financial crisis, the survey's findings indicate that potential homebuyers are not renting by choice but rather by necessity. Higher credit standards and increasing home prices have hindered potential homebuyers. The survey results suggest that younger renters aspire to own but feel pessimistic about their ability to get a mortgage, perceiving down payment and credit score requirements as obstacles. The survey also reported that young renters aspire to own for financial and lifestyle reasons, although a smaller share of respondents (versus last year) reported that their primary reason for renting is to prepare them for homeownership.

For the rental market, the question remains whether that segment's growth is a permanent shift by millennials or merely a bridge until this generation is better prepared to become homeowners.

By Marycela Diaz-Unzalu, a Regional Economic Information Network analyst in the Atlanta Fed's Miami Branch

July 7, 2014 in Florida, Housing, Real Estate | Permalink

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06/26/2014

Florida, On Holiday

In May, the Sixth District states added just 15,000 net new payrolls. This increase follows three months where the states hit the mark of 40,000 new payrolls per month. However, last month, the District's labor market held two dubious distinctions: first, Florida shed more payrolls than any other state in the nation, and second, Georgia—despite adding 12,900 payrolls in May—had the largest statistically significant increase in its unemployment rate than any other state in the nation (up 0.3 percentage points; see the chart).

Contributions to Change in Net Payrolls, by Sixth District State

As you can see in the chart above, Florida added about 100,000 payrolls for the first four months of 2014 before hitting a snag in May. So what happened last month? Three of the state's sectors that appeared to have turned the corner following the downturn actually were hit hard in May: employment in the construction and accommodation and food services sectors both declined last month, losing 6,100 and 7,700 payrolls, respectively. Hiring in professional and business services—a sector recovering faster than most in the postrecession period—shed 9,500 payrolls. Florida's professional and business services sector added 25,500 payrolls during the first four months of 2014.

As always, a reasonable word of caution when looking at these data: one month does not a trend make. Still, you can't help but scratch your head on this one, especially with accommodation and food services, as the weather warms up after a harsh winter and people begin planning their Florida beach getaways. You can see how employment in the previously mentioned sectors is faring relative to their most recent peaks and troughs in the chart below.

Florida Total Nonfarm Payrolls and Selected Industries

On the other hand, Florida's labor market is still showing some signs of life: the trade and transportation sector added 5,300 payrolls, and retailers added 2,100 payroll jobs.

Other District states fared better in May. As previously mentioned, Georgia added 12,900 payrolls (with 5,400 of those being in professional, scientific, and technical services), and Louisiana added 8,500 payroll jobs over the month. Tennessee added 6,700 payrolls, and Mississippi—where monthly payroll growth has averaged 1,300 during the past 12 months—added 4,100 payrolls.

State unemployment rates
Despite five out of six District states adding payrolls in May, five out of six District states also saw increases in their unemployment rates. The District's aggregate unemployment rate ticked up 0.1 percentage point to reach 6.5 percent, while Mississippi's ticked up to reach 7.7 percent (the highest rate in the District). Georgia saw a 0.3 percentage point increase, reaching 7.2 percent. Louisiana's noticeably lower rate of employment increased to 4.9 percent (see the chart).

Unemployment Rates for Sixth District States, and Sixth District Aggregate

To find out how many jobs it would take to lower unemployment rates in all 50 states, check out the Atlanta Fed's Jobs Calculator.

The next national employment release will be out July 3, and the next regional employment release comes out July 18.

By Mark Carter, a senior economic analyst in the Atlanta Fed's research department

June 26, 2014 in Employment, Florida, Labor Markets, Southeast, Unemployment | Permalink

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05/09/2014

Is Florida Finally Beginning to Flourish Again?

In March, we shared the view of our contacts in the Regional Economic Information Network (REIN) in north and central Florida. Those contacts described modest but sustained growth in activity in the first quarter of the year. That sentiment continued as winter turned into spring, with reports of increasing activity and greater optimism for continued growth during the remainder of the year.

Since mid-March, the REIN team in the Atlanta Fed’s Jacksonville Branch held 13 one-on-one interviews, one roundtable with a mix of business leaders, a Trade and Transportation Advisory Council meeting (recently summarized), as well as our branch board meeting. Although meeting participants noted acquisitions as a primary growth engine for most firms, some firms are expanding capacity to meet improving demand. Community banks are reporting increased commercial activity as bigger banks trim lines on small businesses. Though loan demand is still relatively soft, our contacts characterized clients as somewhat more confident, which bodes well for future lending activity. One banker cited noteworthy increases in credit card usage and home equity loans.

Retail contacts continue to express concerns about low-income consumers but note that the slowly improving labor market is resulting in somewhat more spending. In central Florida, contacts noted strong spending by more affluent consumers, including foreign visitors who are seeking high-end retail and dining. Robust home sales and price appreciation, accompanied by declining lender-mediated sales, were widely reported. Commercial construction is on the rise, especially in sectors such as health care, manufacturing, apartments, and higher education.

A focus on cost-cutting along with productivity-enhancing efforts continues. As one chief executive officer put it, “People are the last thing we’ll invest in.” Another company has committed to keeping its general and administrative expenses flat, which will result in support staff cuts to offset the increased cost of technology investments and health care. Two other large contacts noted significant reductions of full-timers to avoid having to provide health care coverage and to “be more in line with the industry.” We increasingly hear more about firms restructuring employee health plans and benefits to reduce costs to the company, including shifting more cost burden to the employee, restricting eligibility for spouses who may have access to insurance elsewhere, and adding risk-based surcharges.

Education contacts noted that the ability to place graduates seeking work has improved. Stories abound regarding difficult-to-fill positions (truck drivers, IT, accounting, etc.), and reports of a willingness to increase starting salaries are mixed. Generally, there were few reports of wage pressures mounting (outside of the trucking industry). The news on input prices remains relatively quiet.

Our contacts noted that qualified mortgage rules—and regulations more generally—have the potential to affect the housing recovery. A mortgage and refinance company has cut the majority of its workforce as refinance volume diminishes but noted that current regulations are making first mortgages, especially to the self-employed, “nearly impossible” to issue. Two other small-banking contacts indicated they have discontinued providing residential mortgages. However, two residential real estate contacts did not indicate any major concern about clients’ abilities to obtain mortgage loans.

At the April meeting of the board of directors of the Jacksonville Branch, we asked board members whether the current and near-term environment reflects an economy that is growing at a 2 percent rate or one that is growing at 3 percent. The majority view activity now and in the coming year to be more closely aligned with a 3 percent growth rate. The board members feel that the biggest potential impediment to growth is related to the consumer, as many people continue to struggle and consumer confidence remains lower than before the recession (see the chart).

Florida Consumer Confidence

The old proverb goes, “No matter how long the winter, spring is sure to follow.” One could apply this adage to the Great Recession and the long recovery and ask: Has an economic “spring” finally sprung? We’ll be keeping tabs as the year plays out.

By Sarah Arteaga, a Regional Economic Information Network director in the Atlanta Fed's Jacksonville Branch


May 9, 2014 in Banks and banking, Construction, Economic Growth and Development, Economic Indicators, Florida, Health Care, Housing, Jobs, Manufacturing, Real Estate, Retail | Permalink

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04/29/2014

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 29, 2014 in Alabama, Economic conditions, Florida, Georgia, Growth, Tourism, Travel | Permalink

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04/25/2014

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


April 25, 2014 in Alabama, Employment, Florida, Georgia, Jobs, Labor Markets, Louisiana, Mississippi, Southeast, Tennessee, Unemployment | Permalink

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04/04/2014

The Graying of the Sunshine State’s Labor Force

Business contacts throughout the region have expressed, through the Atlanta Fed’s Regional Economic Information Network (REIN), a growing concern with an aging population and a shortage of qualified and interested younger candidates to fill positions vacated by retirees. A recent presentation spotlighted this trend in Florida. The report “Florida’s Economic Future & the Impact of Aging” by Florida’s Office of Economic and Demographic Research (EDR) notes that “population growth is the state’s primary engine of economic growth, fueling both employment and income growth.” The presentation reports two main concerns for the state: one is an aging population and a shrinking pool of workers, and the other is a growing need for services, natural resources, and infrastructure as the state’s overall population increases.

Florida’s population has grown from 15.9 million in 2000 to 18.8 million in 2010, a nearly 18 percent increase, and it is forecast to grow to 23.6 million by 2030. The population growth adds concerns for not only current older Floridians but also for future older residents, who will help further the demographic trend of an aging population and a labor force whose growth is slowing.

In 2010, Florida was one of seven states whose median age was over 40; at 17.3 percent, it is the state with the largest percentage of population age 65 or older. Of the nation’s top ten cities with the highest percentage of population age 65 or older, four are in Florida: Clearwater at 19.8 percent, Hialeah at 19.1 percent, Cape Coral at 17.0 percent, and Miami at 16.0 percent. Two years later, in 2012, the median age in Florida rose to 41, with six counties reporting a median age of 50 and older. Demographers expect Florida’s older population to nearly double between 2010 and 2040 (see the chart).

Florida's Aging Population


Supporting concerns expressed by REIN contacts, the EDR research reports that as approximately 4.8 million baby boomers are set to retire between 2011 and 2029, the share of workers to retirees will shrink. The chart below depicts the growth in population in the group ages 45 to 64 years (roughly speaking, the baby boomer cohort) since 2000, but it also shows a decline in residents ages 44 and younger, one reason for a declining potential labor force. This change in the composition of the population will cause the current ratio of three taxpaying workers to each retiree to decline to two to one by 2030.

Florida Age Distribution


The EDR also expects additional ramifications including weaker economic growth rates, potential upward pressure on wages to attract and retain skilled workers, and a growing retirement-age population, which could lead to a decline in consumer spending and changes in investment patterns. The EDR is also concerned about problems filling labor-intensive jobs such as firefighters, police officers, and construction workers. In addition, jobs will likely require increasingly specialized skill sets as technology advances.

By Marycela Diaz-Unzalu, an economic and financial education specialist in the Miami Branch of the Atlanta Fed

April 4, 2014 in Economic Growth and Development, Employment, Florida, Jobs, Labor Markets | Permalink

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03/28/2014

An Economic Perspective from North and Central Florida

Over the course of the six weeks between the January and March Federal Open Market Committee meetings, my colleague Chris Oakley, the regional executive of the Atlanta Fed's Jacksonville Branch, and I met with 17 business leaders from across north and central Florida, as well as with members of our branch board of directors, to gain a broad perspective on current economic conditions.

Overall, most contacts indicated that that the stronger pace of activity experienced in the latter part of last year either has been sustained or should resume as the weather improves. (Unlike the rest of the country, Florida has been relatively untouched by the adverse winter weather. However, our contacts with a national footprint or those who experienced delayed parts deliveries, like manufacturing, construction, and food services, have noted disruptions in activity as a result of bad weather in certain markets.)

Designers and builders of both large and small enterprises noted a pick-up, especially in manufacturing, health care, and financial services, with one firm reporting a record backlog of projects due to organic growth and acquisitions. Other areas of strength for the state included tourism, housing construction, port activity, and an increasing number of retirees choosing Florida as their new home. On the flip side, banker contacts continued to be disappointed with a lack of loan demand among small business clients, but "tire kicking" appeared to have increased along with expectations for a higher level of activity this year. Restaurant contacts indicated worries about middle- and low-income consumers, whose disposable incomes are challenged with low wage growth and adjusting to increased health care premiums.

Florida has experienced a stronger rebound in new home permits than the nation since the beginning of 2014 (see the chart). Conversations with business contacts reflect this trend. Some residential home builders indicated that they are building spec homes with confidence that the properties will sell; one custom builder reported that his spec homes have been selling at 98 percent of the asking price. Banker contacts noted price increases as a result of both reduced real estate owned inventories on their books and a shortage of developed lots for new home construction. On the credit side, bankers reported that available credit now appears to have achieved some equilibrium with real estate demand. It was also noted that demand for rental property remains robust as some previous homeowners who lost their homes during the downturn have indicated no interest in owning another home and will continue to rent, at least in the near term.


Feedback regarding the labor market was mixed. We heard several stories about the inability to fill construction jobs, especially high-skilled positions. One contact speculated that this lack of talent could eventually result in a greater proportion of construction taking place in factory-like settings with only assembly occurring in the field, allowing for the use of greater automation in manufacturing components. Staffing contacts noted postrecession high levels of openings, and those workers with unique skills (often I.T. or accounting-related) were in the driver's seat and were able to dictate working conditions and have some leverage in compensation negotiations. A large manufacturer found success in partnering with Florida's universities and military veteran placement services to ensure an adequate supply of engineers and other high-skilled workers.

A good amount of discussion about increased labor costs focused on health care benefits, with sources sharing anecdotes about annual increases as high as 20 percent. A majority of contacts indicated they are passing along or sharing premium increases with employees. We also heard stories of companies reducing or discontinuing benefits for family members who might otherwise qualify for benefits elsewhere. Further, it was emphasized, especially among lower-wage, service-oriented companies, that the individual mandate of the Affordable Care Act is resulting in a larger number of eligible employees electing coverage, which is also driving up costs for the employer. A large design-build firm noted increased labor costs among its subcontractors, and a real estate rental firm indicated a "fair amount of wage pressure" for higher-level employees, such as property managers. In the government sector, both at the county and municipal levels, contacts commented on a resumption of wage increases among their constituents, the first for most since the recession.

With regard to nonlabor costs, developed land and construction material costs were both noted as concerns among construction contractors. Restaurant contacts expect food costs to rise about 4 percent this year, consistent with what they experienced in 2013, with increasing meat prices driving the rise. Banker contacts continued to point to rising regulatory and compliance costs. Overall, there appears to be more of an appetite for attempting to push through input cost increases through pricing, though the consensus is that any increase would be conservative.

So, overall, the takeaway from all of these anecdotes is that it's more of the same. While uncertainties are fewer and farther between than in the past couple of years, the outlook in the northern half of Florida appears a little less cloudy and even laced with cautious optimism. For a wider viewpoint on the economy across the Southeast, see the Atlanta Fed's latest Southeastern Insights.

By Sarah Arteaga, a Regional Economic Information Network director in the Atlanta Fed's Jacksonville Branch


March 28, 2014 in Economic conditions, Economy, Employment, Florida, Real Estate | Permalink

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01/28/2014

Are the Clouds Lifting in the Sunshine State?

Each month, the Atlanta Fed produces a Data Digest for each state in our district. Beyond providing an economic snapshot for each state, the Data Digest also breaks down the information by metro area or industry, where appropriate.

Florida’s latest Data Digest indicates that the state’s overall economic activity is improving. For example, a broad measure of economic performance—the Coincident Economic Activity Index, which the Philadelphia Fed compiles for all 50 states—has been steadily improving since 2010 and improved at a slightly faster clip than the nation since August 2013 (see the chart).

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Looking at Florida’s labor markets, you can see that the state’s unemployment rate has improved from a peak of 11.4 percent in early 2010 to under 7 percent in November 2013 (see the chart). In addition, the state has regained more than half of the jobs that were lost during the downturn. The leisure and hospitality, education and health care, and retail trade sectors have more jobs today than prior to the downturn. Regarding the first sector, my Atlanta Fed colleague Gloria Guzman wrote in a previous SouthPoint post that the leisure and hospitality sector has been a significant contributor to Florida’s economic recovery. Meanwhile, employment in the manufacturing and construction sectors still has a long way to go before full recovering can be declared.

Employment Loss and Gain by Industry: Florida, November 2013

The University of Florida’s Bureau of Economic and Business Research reported that although consumer confidence is off its recession lows, improvement has stalled. Despite that slowing, Florida sales tax revenue continues to rebound (see the chart). The Florida Department of Revenue notes that sales tax has been positively affected by the healthy activity in the leisure and hospitality sector.

Florida Sales Tax Revenue and Consumer Confidence, November 2013

The Atlanta Fed’s monthly real estate poll of homebuilders and brokers has noted improving home prices, and other data confirm this trend in Florida. The state has experienced an improvement in home prices of 8.4 percent from November 2012 to November 2013, according to the Federal Housing Finance Agency. Furthermore, the S&P Case-Shiller home price index shows similar trends in Miami and Tampa (see the chart).

S&P/Case-Shiller Home Price Index, through October 2013

Our monthly real estate poll also showed a rebound in residential construction (see the chart). Data from the U.S. Census Bureau confirm this trend, although it is important to note that activity is well below the prerecession peak. Although we do not expect a return to 2005 levels of activity, the steady rebound in new home construction is another signal of the state’s overall economic recovery.

New Residential Home Construction Permits, November 2013

Florida’s economy is clearly moving in the right direction. The Atlanta Fed’s surveys as well as regular input from business leaders and economic data all point to a steady rebound.

By Marycela Diaz-Unzalu, an economic and financial education specialist in the Atlanta Fed’s Miami Branch


January 28, 2014 in Construction, Employment, Florida, Housing, Prices, Real Estate | Permalink

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