The Business Economist at Work: Regional Analysis in a State Bureau of Economic and Business Research

Article excerpt

State Bureaus of Economic and Business Research are a good source of state and local economic data and expertise. The economic forecasting program at the University of Florida is described in detail.

INFORMATION DRIVES THE modern economy. Everyone knows that thousands of people move to sunny Florida from the cold north after retirement every year. But how many know that almost two-thirds of Florida's in-migrants are still in the labor force?

Everyone knows that Sarasota has one of the highest concentrations of elderly in the nation, but how many realize that almost half of the personal income in that metropolitan area comes from interest earned on savings accounts and other types of property?

Everyone knows that the U.S. has lost several million manufacturing jobs since 1979 and that it is unlikely those jobs will be regained anytime soon, but how many know that Florida has gained about 80 thousand manufacturing jobs during the same time and is forecast to gain as many more over the next decade and a half?

Collecting data, analyzing and interpreting data, and then getting that data analysis to people in the public and private sectors is what the University of Florida Bureau of Economic and Business Research is all about.

Most states have a similar bureau at one or more universities. Many of them are engaged in economic forecasting or at least in tracking current economic statistics. Many are also engaged in population estimation and projection. These bureaus (which go by many names) often are the best source of local economic and demographic information. If one needs information on all states, all Metropolitian Statistical Areas (MSAs), and all counties in the U.S., a single national source is perhaps more economical. But if one needs information on particular states, MSAs and counties, then a state bureau often has the most knowledgeable staff and publications with the right information. Check out the bureau in your state.

UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA PROGRAMS

The Bureau at the University of Florida is relatively large and performs many activities. These are grouped into four programs: Economic Forecasting, Population Estimation and Projection, Consumer Survey, and Local Government. I will focus on economic forecasting in this article but mention the other programs as well because of the interdependence of their work.

The Bureau takes seriously both its major tasks of academic research and practical research. The Bureau is highly regarded by the business community in Florida. Its credibility is enhanced by its ties to the College of Business Administration. The Bureau is also highly regarded by the College for the articles published in academic journals regarding forecasting methodology.

The focus of the economic forecasting program is employment, income and construction. Both quarterly and long-term (ten to fifteen years) economic forecasts are made. To accomplish this we must do several things: gather and process data, analyze data, and disseminate research findings.

GATHER AND PROCESS DATA

Perhaps the greatest frustration in regional economics is the lack of extensive high-quality data for countries and MSAs. Data collection is difficult and expensive -- but essential. Therefore, the Bureau devotes considerable resources to data collection. The Bureau's data collection activities are of two types:

1. We gather all the important economic statistics generated by other private and public statistical agencies. Many of these data come from federal agencies, but the state of Florida also estimates the number of visitors to the state by mode of travel, and compiles sales tax data by kind of business. In addition, employment statistics are produced by a cooperative effort of the state and federal governments.

2. We conduct our own surveys to gather other data, primarily electric customer data and consumer confidence. …