Armstrong State University’s latest Coastal Empire Economic Monitor reports that the Savannah-area economy continued to strengthen during the fourth quarter of 2014 and is expected to experience sustained growth at a healthy pace throughout 2015. Over the past year, the regional economy expanded at its fastest pace since 2004.
The Economic Monitor, which analyzes data and identifies trends affecting the regional economy, reports across-the-board growth in key areas.
During the fourth quarter, the economy was boosted by improvements in the housing, construction, manufacturing and labor markets as gains in consumer expectations continued.
The Coastal Empire leading economic index accelerated for the second consecutive quarter, while growth in the coincident index continued.
At the same time, the forecasting index for the metro Savannah area, which includes Bryan County, extended its pace for a second consecutive quarter. Together, these indices signal healthy, continued economic growth in the Savannah area.
“Our regional economy continues to make a healthy recovery, with strong activity occurring in a range of areas, from housing and construction to tourism and manufacturing,” said Michael Toma, Fuller E. Callaway professor of economics and the director of Armstrong’s Center for Regional Analysis. “Based on the latest data, we have every reason to believe the local economy will continue to expand through late 2015.”
Additional highlights from the latest Economic Monitor include:
• The Coastal Empire coincident economic index increased 1.1 percent to 167.2 from 165.2 (revised) in the previous quarter, marking an annualized pace of 4.9 percent and extending a period of strong growth in Savannah’s economy.
• All leading indicators increased during the fourth quarter, with key gains in the regional housing market.
• The tourism industry contributed significantly to the strength in the regional economy throughout 2014. Seasonally and inflation-adjusted hotel- and motel-room receipts increased 8.2 percent during the fourth quarter and were up about 17 percent for the year. Boardings at the airport were up 18 percent over last year.
• Port activity increased nearly 4 percent during the fourth quarter, in terms of TEUs (20-foot equivalent containers) handled at port facilities in Savannah. The port processed 3.3 million containers in 2014 — an all-time record — marking a 10.3 percent increase over totals for 2013.
• In the housing market, building permits issued for single-family homes closed out 2014 with over-the-year gains of 17.8 percent. The number of new residential homes permitted for construction was 409, the second-highest quarterly gain in seven years. The average value of a building permit issued for a single-family home rose 8.2 percent to $208,700 from $192,800, marking a significant increase.
• Seasonally adjusted employment in the three-county metro area increased by 1,100 jobs to 168,300 during the fourth quarter of 2014. Employment levels are 4.6 percent higher than one year ago, with important gains made in tourism, manufacturing, transportation and construction employment.
• The number of new unemployment insurance claims dropped 17.8 percent below previous-year data. During the same period, the unemployment rate fell to 6.2 percent (seasonally adjusted) in December 2014, posting a half percentage point lower than in December 2013. For the year, the unemployment rate fell from 7.5 percent to 6.8 percent in 2013.
The Coastal Empire Economic Monitor presents quarterly economic trends and short-term economic forecasts for Savannah’s Metropolitan Statistical Area, or 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.