Coast Economy Looking Up

Economists say a couple of things point to a sluggish economy on the Coast. Unemployment is up, even though it's still below 5 percent, which economists say is low.

Sales last year fell about three percent below 2000. But experts say the slow down comes after the huge growth on the Coast during the '90s.

"Sales, employment, incomes had all risen to levels that had never been seen before, and so it's not surprising that the economic down turn that occurred at the national level is also mirrored here on the coast," economics professor Dr. Philip Jeffress said.

Jeffress is the director of USM's Gulf South Economic Research Center. He tracks South Mississippi's economic trends. Jeffress and others say we're lucky that military and government spending insulates the Coast from a full recession.

"We look at Keesler as a military base. We look at the Keesler hospital, $65 million hospital. How about the ships over in Pascagoula? So it goes on and on and on. Government's important to us, probably worth 20, 25 cents of every dollar that we have on the Coast comes from the government,  yes, so that gives us some insulation," Hancock Bank President George Schoegel said

Business executives say steady low interest rates and gas prices that are cheaper than the national average are helping the Coast rebound from the slump and more people are beginning to travel again.

"People are starting to fly more. People are beginning to spend more money on entertainment and things that we would hope that they would spend money on,  so hopefully we'll start to see things pick up," Mississippi Power CEO Michael Garrett said.

Dr. Jeffress says he is optimistic the pickup will begin with the arrival of spring and into the summer.