Coast Merchants Upbeat About Economy

Big corporations are slashing jobs, the Federal Reserve is rolling back interest rates and some economists are voicing fears about a recession.

Nationwide, the economy grew at an annual rate of just 1.4 percent in the fourth quarter. That's the weakest performance in more than five years.

But what about the coast economy?

The local economy doesn't always follow the overall trend. Economic growth here may be slowing down some, but merchants say this is still a great place to be in business.

"We've got the boat shows coming up. The interest rate reduction is perfect timing as far as we're concerned. And people are getting real excited again."

Keith King is upbeat about business prospects at his boat dealership.

Luxuries like boats are often the first things consumers will do without in a slow economy. But try telling that to the owner of Ocean Marine. Business at his Ocean Springs location was so strong, King opened another dealership in Gulfport last fall.

"We've got more people moving in every month. And more houses being built," King says.  "There's just a, not totally insulated here, but there is somewhat of a different picture here in South Mississippi than nationwide."

Widening Government Street has been the only thing to slow down business at "Rene's." Owner Rene Patout barbecues ribs, processes deer meat and sells various Cajun delights.

He's also quite bullish about the coast economy.

"With the new administration too, I think you're going to see a positive growth. I think you're going to see this area along between Louisiana, Alabama and Mississippi really growing. And I think we're in a positive place here," Patout said.

Tourism based businesses are normally slow this time of year. But the operators of one Biloxi souvenir shop are anticipating a busy summer, and they don't expect any economic downtown to take a bite out of business this year.

"No need for doom and gloom," business owner Jennifer Drawdy said.  "We are very optimistic here. We know there's going to be a lot of folks coming to the coast to visit. We have a lot to offer here. We have put a lot of faith in our tourists. We've been in business here since 1973. And things are growing. And we want to be here and grow with them."