“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.


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The Savannah metro economy sped up in the first quarter of 2016. Total employment and most other economic indicators drove and strengthened the regional economy according to a the Coastal Empire Economic Monitor, published by Armstrong State University.

The labor and housing markets both trended up and consumer expectations in the South Atlantic states remained consistent. The Economic Monitor predicted that the pace of growth in Q2 would continue at about the rate of Q1.

Coastal Empire Economic Indicators Leading and Coincident Indexes

Current Economic Indicators Pick Up Pace

The Coastal Empire coincident (measures current activity) economic index rose from 171.8 to 172.5. This was a welcome trend as it had dipped some in the second half of 2015. The index grew at an annualized pace of 3.3% for Q1 of 2016.

The index measures things like growth in total employment, electricity sales, retail sales, port activity and consumer confidence. All except consumer confidence drove the index higher in the first quarter. Even though consumer confidence was weak in Q1, it looked as if it is headed back up for Q2.

Labor Market

Savannah MSA Employment

Employment in the Chatham, Bryan and Effingham area rose by 1,300 jobs and averaged 175,600 for the quarter. That represented a growth rate of 3.6% compared to the same time last year. This is the seventh quarter in row that job growth has been above the 3% mark.

Savannah metro area employment has averaged a 3% increase — the best growth rate since pre-recession days (2005 to 2007). But the recent job increases have come from a wider area of job sectors, unlike the pre-recession job growth which was primarily driven by construction activity.

Here’s a quick overview:

Business and professional services employment gained 700 jobs — 10% more than a year ago. Tourism and retail added nearly 300 workers. As a whole, the service sector grew by about 1,200 jobs. Tourism continues to thrive in Savannah as more people visit the area. In fact, tour buses and trolleys saw a 6% increase for the quarter compared to the first quarter of 2015. Auto rental sales (+3%) and beer/wine/alcohol sales (+4%) have also climbed higher compared to last year.

Manufacturing added 200 jobs, but construction lost 100 jobs. Despite the losses, construction has held steady at 6,400 for the last five quarters, while employment in manufacturing rose to 18,100 jobs during the first quarter of 2016.

Leading Indicators Rise Too

The Coastal Empire leading (future activity) economic index rose 1.4% (5.5%, annualized) from 152.4 to 154.5 — thanks to the average value of building permits for single-family homes going up and new filings for unemployment insurance going down.

Housing Market

Since early 2015, 500 or so building permits have been issued for single-family homes each quarter. For Q1 of 2016, the number of new home permits dropped 4.4% from 509 to 487. The number of building permits issued was down 1% (6 units) from a year ago. But the average value for building permits for single family homes climbed 23% from $205,600 to $251,800 . But look for it to settle back down in Q2, as it has hovered around $205,000 for the last year.

Labor Market

Initial claims for unemployment insurance (UI) declined 14% from 758 to 651 claims. The number of new UI claims is down 15% compared to last year. Also, the Savannah area unemployment rate has dropped dramatically during the last year from 6.5% to 5.2% (seasonally adjusted).

The Economic Monitor summarized their findings by saying that Savannah’s current economic activity has “picked up during the opening quarter of 2016” and forecasted that Savannah’s regional economic growth “is sustainable through the end of 2016.”

You can read the entire report here.

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