Dr. Donald Epley, director of the University of South Alabama (USA) Center for Real Estate and Economic Development (CREED), recently spoke at the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce about the local economy and its future economic growth. Of particular interest to Epley is the economic impact of the “importing” of resources from outside the Mobile Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA).

Epley produced data-driven projections based on the Mobile Business Activity Index (MBAI), current employment and payroll figures, and consumer investment in home purchases. According to the results of his analysis, the MBAI showed a projected increase of 2 percent over the next 12 months, indicating a more productive year compared with 2014.

But a startling statistic from his presentation was the amount of imports the area uses to produce local goods and services. According to Epley, roughly 63 percent of production among the top 20 MSA industries was generated using imports from non-local suppliers. In monetary terms, this equates to more than $21 billion in spending out of the area.

Lagniappe recently sat down with Epley to get his take on the best way to tackle this “buy local” dilemma in large-scale terms.
Lagniappe: “Buy local” is an idea that has been promoted by local small businesses for years. Do you think success will be found by hammering home the message upmarket to major job-generating industries in the region?

Epley: Yes. Decision-makers need to know the magnitude of the numbers and the potential impact made relative to the size of other expenditures in the area. To the best of my knowledge, these figures have not been seen in Mobile. Also, buying local relies only on local decisions. We do not need to look to Washington or Montgomery for help in stimulating the economy.

Lagniappe: If successfully heard, what number or percentage do you think would be realistic in regard to lowering the average amount of dollars spent importing goods and services outside the region from the current $21 billion deficit?

Epley: A projection is difficult. If this analysis were redone in a year, and the import number had dropped by $1 billion, I would be thrilled.

Lagniappe: Of the top five job-producing industries in the region, one (other services) is below the 2015 family poverty-level guidelines, while another (retail) is barely above it. What, if anything, can be done to raise the average salary in these industries?

Epley: There are three ways to increase the overall economic activity. Increase jobs, increase wage income and increase jobs with an increase in wages. Existing firms must see a positive change in profits to change wages or income. Buying local should reduce transportation costs, which increases profit. Thus, increased profits provide industries with the opportunity to employ, raise wages or both. Reducing imports asks local firms to provide more products and/or create new firms as needed.

Lagniappe: Final thoughts?

Epley: My action plan only shows a group such as the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce assembling all of the 20 industries in the Convention Center and asking each to review their purchases, and determine among their own expenditures what can be bought in local markets. Another interesting implication of these numbers is that many of these purchases are subject to the local sales tax, which is a major source of government revenue. It could be used to simulate various potential sales tax levies.

More information about Epley’s reports can be found at CREED’s website.

BugMaster celebrates 40 years
Founded in 1975 by Mobile native Frank Alardo, BugMaster Exterminators Inc. is celebrating 40 years of service to the Mobile and Baldwin counties. According to a news release, the company is launching a “Summer of ‘75 Contest,” giving away iconic 1970s-era trinkets, such as pet rocks and mood rings, to commemorate its founding.

BugMaster also plans to give away prizes in conjunction with other local business partners, including the Crescent Theater and Bluegill and River Shack restaurants, along with four $100 gift cards for pest control services and a grand prize of an annual Sentricon termite contract valued at more than $1,000. The contest is open to current and new residential customers. Prizes will be given away weekly, with the grand prize drawing Sept. 1. Registration is via the BugMaster website.

Insurance Professional of the Year   
The Insurance Professionals of Mobile, the local association for the International Association of Insurance Professionals (IAIP) for Mobile and Baldwin counties, recently awarded the 2015 Anna S. Loding Insurance Professional of the Year Award to Allen Chapman during the association’s annual Industry Night held at Mobile’s Mardi Gras Museum.

The award is presented annually to a member of the association who has shown dedication to the advancement of the insurance industry. 
With more than 14 years’ experience in the industry, Chapman is an executive vice president with HUB International Gulf South Limited, a leading insurance brokerage firm with offices in Alabama, Mississippi and Louisiana. He also is an active board member at Christ United Methodist Church and for the Senior Bowl. Chapman holds a bachelor’s degree from The University of Southern Mississippi.

New Horizon names development director
Kasie Tanley Irby was recently hired as business development director for New Horizons Credit Union in Mobile. Irby joins from Army Aviation Federal Credit Union, where she held a similar position for more than four years. Prior to that she was employed at AmSouth/RBC as a senior relationship banker.
Irby originally hails from Huntsville and graduated from Athens State University with a bachelor’s degree in secondary education. She currently serves on the board of the Mobile chapter of the Society for Human Resource Management and is the 2015 conference chair. She also serves on the board of the American Red Cross, Alabama Gulf Coast Chapter.
Irby is an ambassador with the Mobile Area Chamber of Commerce and also serves on the Chamber’s Military Affairs and Business Retention and Expansion committees. She is a member of the Public Relations Council of Alabama, the Women’s Council of Realtors and South Alabama Financial Crimes Task Force, and is active in the Mobile chapter of the Southeastern League of Credit Unions.