Construction companies in the Jacksonville area are seeing a downturn in their business, a sign of the economic downturn.

However, despite the current situation, those companies are optimistic about the direction of the economy over the next 12 months.

That’s the latest finding from a new monthly survey of manufacturers compiled by the University of North Florida’s Local Economic Indicators Project, or LEIP.

The survey is called the Jacksonville Economic Monitoring Survey or JEMS.

Albert Loh, UNF economics professor and director of LEIP, said the monthly survey of manufacturers will give Northeast Florida businesses an indication of the overall state of the local economy.

“I think over time people will find that it’s specific to the Jacksonville area and relevant to their market,” he said.

Here are the February results from the Jacksonville Economic Monitoring Survey, or JEMS.

UNF economist Paul Mason started the LEIP in 2002 to provide unique indicators of the Jacksonville economy.

Mason retired from UNF in 2016 to become dean of the School of Business at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas, and Loh succeeded him as director of LEIP.

State officials provide monthly data on the Jacksonville labor market but few other timely indicators of the local economy.

The LEIP is loaded with indicators, including the Consumer Price Index, which measures inflation in the Jacksonville area.

JEMS is a new monthly survey of Jacksonville area manufacturers that collects data on 12 business measures, including production, output value, new orders and inventory.

Loh began the survey in February, sending an email to representatives of several dozen Jacksonville-area construction companies.

Most businesses did not respond, he said.

“There’s usually a limit at this point because we just started. Not many people know about it,” he said.

Loh hopes to contact a broader list of businesses over time.

“I’m trying to bring some major businesses into the manufacturing sector,” he said.

He also intends to generate sector-specific data on a broad range of industry sectors and economic outlook.

University of North Florida student Cal Eshite-Amar, who works in the dean’s office, talks with UNF economist Albert Loh in the Coggin College of Business.

Photo by Dede Smith

‘The market is weakening’

Although the initial survey was based on a limited number of responses, Loh said the data tracked national indices on manufacturing activity.

“It seems to be consistent with what the numbers reflect nationally,” he said.

“The big message is that they seem to realize that the market is weakening.”

The March survey showed that six of the 12 indicators were contracting, four were expanding and two were unchanged, so the overall index suggests a shrinking economy in Northeast Florida.

Although the March survey indicates a contraction, Loh said the optimism in the business activity outlook indicates that local manufacturers are content to “ride out any headwinds and waves in the short term”.

Albert Loh, professor of economics at the University of North Florida.

Photo by Dede Smith

Adding CPI

Following the launch of the JEMS index, LEIP is also working to relaunch its core indexes for the CPI and key indicators for the Northeast Florida economy.

The CPI is generated by economics students who collect price data from regional businesses, based on a basket of goods for a typical household. But it’s run into snags because the current basket doesn’t reflect what consumers are buying today, Loh said.

He hopes to have a new basket ready later this year to start reproducing the monthly inflation index.

Loh is also considering a new index of key indicators as some of the original indicators used are no longer available.

For example, an index was a help-wanted index that was usually generated from job listings in the classifieds section of newspapers. However, most businesses now use online sites to post job openings.

Loh is confident that LEIP will soon work out the kinks and provide useful monthly information to Jacksonville area businesses.

“My plan is to provide a monthly update on the direction of the economy,” he said.

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