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The Atlanta Fed's SouthPoint offers commentary and observations on various aspects of the region's economy.

The blog's authors include staff from the Atlanta Fed's Regional Economic Information Network and Public Affairs Department.

Postings are weekly.

Logistics in the Southeast

(Note: This post is the first part of a two-part discussion of freight and logistics in the Southeast and beyond.)

The Jacksonville Branch of the Atlanta Fed regularly convenes an advisory council on trade and transportation. This council has existed since 2008 and is made up of industry leaders and experts from throughout the Sixth District. Members of this group have provided input to the Atlanta Fed, giving insight into this key component of the nation's economy, which has influenced forecasting and policy decisions. The "boots on the ground" intelligence we receive is also extremely useful in our contributions to the Beige Book on trade, transportation, and logistics issues.

I recently had the opportunity to participate in two conferences focused on challenges and opportunities in this business sector. The first, "Freight in the Southeast—Moving Our Region's Business," was coordinated by the Institute for Trade and Transportation Studies. I encourage you to visit the institute's website and get to know its executive director, Bruce Lambert. The institute's current membership includes the departments of transportation from states in the Sixth District (Florida, Georgia, Alabama, Tennessee, Mississippi, and Louisiana) as well as Arkansas, Kentucky, North Carolina, South Carolina, Virginia, and Puerto Rico. Its mission is to provide research data and expert opinions to its members concerning the effects of commercial freight movements on domestic and international activities as they relate to safety, infrastructure, and transportation.

The conference featured thought-provoking discussions on various topics affecting the industry and the economy more broadly. Examples include discussions on freight-planning activities at the state, regional, and national levels; managing today's and tomorrow's freight corridors, including the challenge of congestion; and trends in logistics and delivery. While participants agreed with one another on many points, there was healthy debate on a number of issues as well, including regulatory changes, particularly in the trucking industry; how to obtain funds needed for various infrastructure projects in both the short and long term; the intense competition among East Coast and Sixth District port authorities for limited federal and state dollars to fund port improvements; and dredging ports in anticipation of larger ships bringing goods to the Gulf and East Coast via the expanded Panama Canal.

Discussions on the state of the economy were also common; there was a consensus among participants that there is a pick-up in their industry and a level of confidence that has not been observed since the recession began. (In a recent post, SouthPoint focused on improving consumer confidence.) However, one presenter reminded us that "strengthening does not mean strong," alluding to improvement as compared with subpar performance in prior periods. Headwinds exist, but positive momentum appears to be building (and this momentum comes in a sector that touches just about every part of the U.S., if not the world, economy).

If there was any overarching theme, it was that collaboration is required to deal with both the challenges facing the sector as well as the opportunities presented. Participants seemed eager to work together to push the industry and the economy forward. I tip my hat to Bruce for coordinating this important conference and encourage readers to learn more. Next time, I'll share some insights from the Retail Industry Leaders Association 2011 Logistics Conference.

By Chris Oakley, vice president at the Atlanta Fed and Jacksonville Branch regional executive