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Monday, January 6, 2014 - 3:20am

Economist Sees Housing, Labor Market Growth

Improving housing and labor markets will boost the Savannah-area economy in 2014.

That's what an area economist is prepared to say in a year-ahead forecast.

The region is coming off strong years in tourism.

Money flowing into the Savannah-area from out-of-towners produced remarkable numbers in 2012 and 2013.

Michael Toma of Armstrong Atlantic State Univerisy's Coastal Economic Monitor says he expects these and other figures to continue rising in the new year.

"We had a very good year in 2013," Toma says. "The numbers look very good on an over-the-year basis. And keep in mind, 2012 was a very good year, too. So, in some sense, it's remarkable that that momentum has carried forward."

Initial unemployment claims in a three-county Savannah region are at a five-year low.

"It should continue to encourage purchases of residential housing," Toma says. "So I think we're looking good moving into 2014."

The Port of Savannah also set new tonnage records.

Some highlights from the latest Economic Monitor include:

·The Coastal Empire coincident economic index increased by half of a percent, rising to 158.9 and representing 2 percent annual growth.

·Tourism surged in the third quarter, with hotel room sales increasing by 7.4 percent from the previous quarter and by 11 percent from one year ago.

·The Coastal Empire leading economic index surged 1.5 percent, rising to 129.5 from 127.6 (revised) in the previous quarter.

·In the labor market, seasonally adjusted initial claims for unemployment insurance plummeted 23 percent to 964 claims per month.

·The seasonally adjusted number of new residential homes permitted for construction was 334, marking a 22 percent increase from the second quarter of the year.

Savannah-area business leaders are set to receive the local and state economic forecasts at a luncheon on January 15th.

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