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Savannah Economy Rebounds from Hurricane Matthew with Healthy Growth in Q1 of 2017

“The Savannah metro economy returned to healthy growth in the opening quarter of 2017,” according to Armstrong’s Coastal Economic Monitor.

The local economy put the effects of Matthew behind it in the first quarter of 2017, as the economy saw “gains in total employment, boardings at the airport, retail sales, port activity, and consumer confidence.” But electricity sales did suffer due to a warmer than usual weather in the winter months.

The forecasting Coastal Empire leading economic index increased markedly, a signal that the “underlying indicators shook off the effect of Hurricane Matthew, which dented the economy in the previous quarter.” The regional labor market and housing market got back on track trending positively as they have the last few years. Building permits were a big winner as issuance started to grow again after a lackluster 2016.  New claims for unemployment insurance also dropped to its lowest level in 17 years.

The Coastal Empire coincident economic index increased 1.2% (4.8% annualized) to 178.4 from 176.3 (revised) in the previous quarter. The pace of expansion quickened to more than double that of the previous quarter and returned growth to a level exceeding that experienced during spring and summer 2016.” – Coastal Empire Economic Monitor

Job Outlook

Total employment for the Savannah MSA during the first quarter averaged 178,500. That’s 1,900 jobs (+2%) more than Q4 of 2016. Business/professional services, leisure and hospitality, and retail trade all increased by more than 500 workers, while manufacturing lost 100 jobs.

Savannah Ports

Savannah’s port facilities continued to set records.  For six consecutive months —November through April— the port has set new monthly volume records. So far, seasonally adjusted container handling has grown 4.6% no a quarterly basis. It has jumped 10% from a year-ago.


The tourism industry saw a bit of a lull, as seasonally adjusted hotel room rental revenue ticked down in Q1. This was attributed to “above-average hotel sales along I-95 during the fourth quarter as a result of Hurricane Matthew.” The Monitor predicted that activity would “return to trend growth during the second quarter.” Hotel revenue still outpaced year-ago revenues by  7.7%.

The number of persons taking tours in the city increased 5% and is 5% higher than last year at this point. Boarding at the airport did even better and was up 15% for the quarter and on the year. The leisure and hospitality sector of the economy also saw it’s employment hit an all-time high of 27,900.

Forecasting Index Rises Sharply

The Coastal Empire leading economic index leaped 2.8% percent (+11.8%, annualized), climbing to 158.3 from 154.0 in
the Q of 2016. (See red line on the graph at the top of the article.) Changes in residential home building permit issuance, consumer expectations in the South Atlantic states and the US leading economic index drove the index upwards. In addition, initial claims for unemployment insurance fell significantly following a jump in Q4 of 2017 due to Hurrican Matthew.


The housing market also performed well. Building permit issuance for single-family homes (seasonally adjusted) climbed for the second straight quarter. It jumped 12% from Q4 and 6% from a year ago. So 496 homes have been permitted for construction, 52 more than in Q4 of 2016. But the average valuation of building permits for single-family homes did drop $7,000 from $233,000 to $226,000 or 3% for the first quarter of 2017.


Hurricane Matthew’s impact on the regional job market faded fast after Q4. Initial claims for unemployment insurance (UI) plunged 40% to 535 per month for Q1 — the lowest mark since spring of 2000. In Q4 of 2016, the jobless filed 898 claims.  The regional unemployment rate also decreased from 5.1% (Q4/2016) to 4.8% (Q1/2017). from 5.1% in the previous quarter. By comparison, the unemployment rate stood at 5.2% in Q1 of 2016.

Bottom Line

After a temporary setback in Q4 of 2016, the Savannah regional economy is back on track and outpacing its performance in 2016. The Monitor expects this show of strength to continue through the rest of 2017.