Armstrong’s Latest Economic Monitor Reports Impressive Regional Growth for Q1

Staff Report From Savannah CEO

Tuesday, June 30th, 2015

Armstrong State University’s latest Coastal Empire Economic Monitor reports the Savannah-metro economy is experiencing impressive growth even as the rest of the nation struggles. Positive gains were led by expansion in port activity, electricity sales, tourism, retail sales and overall employment growth.

The Economic Monitor, which analyzes data and identifies trends affecting the regional economy, tracks key growth areas. The Coastal Empire coincident index increased 1.3 percent to 169.4 from 167.2 in the previous quarter, extending the period of general economic expansion in the regional economy. Notably, the trend rate in the last seven quarters is similar to the rapid growth experienced during the housing boom of the mid-2000s.

“Our current regional expansion is strong with a diverse support system, unlike previous growth, which was driven by the housing market,” said Michael Toma, Fuller E. Callaway Professor of Economics and the Director of Armstrong’s Center for Regional Analysis. “Housing and labor sectors will continue to rise, but others are expected to as well, including the port, manufacturing, tourism, housing and consumer spending.”

Building permits issuance for single-family homes surged in the first quarter. The number of new residential homes permitted for construction was 493, representing the highest quarterly gain since late 2007. Building permits rose by nearly 50 percent since this same time last year. However, the average value for a building permit issued for a single-family home dipped 15 percent, falling from $208,700 in late 2014 to $178,000 in early 2015.    

Hotel room sales increased by roughly 15 percent compared to last year’s data, reflecting strong tourism growth, which powered into 2015 on the heels of an exceptionally strong 2014. 

Additional highlights from the latest Economic Monitor include: 

· The Coastal Empire leading economic index increased 1.1 percent, rising to 147.4 from 145.8 in the previous quarter. This represents a moderate growth pace and backs off the blistering rate of acceleration in the index at 2014’s close. The index was lifted by consumer expectations, the housing market and labor market activity.

· Seasonally adjusted employment in the three-county metro area increased 300 jobs to 168,800 during the quarter. The data hints toward an upward revision of the overall employment number. At the sector level, the goods-producing industries added 400 jobs while services added roughly 1,000 jobs during the quarter.

· Hospitality/leisure gained 500 workers, rising to 25,500 jobs while business/professional services increased by 800 jobs to 20,900 workers. Education and health providers added 100 workers, boosting the total to 24,500, and make up the second largest employment sector in the region behind the tourism industry. Port activity remains strong and continues to spur employment growth in the transportation sector.

· Manufacturing added 300 jobs to stand at 16,600 workers. Construction employment numbers increased to 6,200, showing a 15 percent increase from its post-recession low.

· In the labor market, seasonally adjusted initial claims for unemployment insurance (UI) fell 5 percent to 768 from 806 claims per month. The number of new UI claims reflect a 14 percent decrease from previous year data. Given diminishing UI claims and steady job growth, the unemployment rate averaged 6.1 percent during the quarter, falling to 5.5 percent in March. One year ago in March, the rate was 7.4 percent.

The Coastal Empire Economic Monitor presents quarterly economic trends and short-term economic forecasts for Savannah’s Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA). The quarterly report measures the heartbeat of the local economy, based on the analysis of economic data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the City of Savannah, Georgia Power and the three counties in the MSA—Chatham, Bryan and Effingham.