Around the South - Winter 2023

Why a slowing or reduced population can devastate a nation’s economy

By Michael Randle, Editor

The Tennessee Valley Authority is planning to build a utility-scale solar farm on top of a coal ash landfill in far western Kentucky.Tennessee Valley Authority will turn coal ash sites into solar farms
TVA is taking its first step in turning its coal ash landfills into solar energy farms, the utility announced in the fall quarter. TVA’s board approved a $216 million investment for a pilot project to build a 100-megawatt, 309-acre solar farm on top of a coal ash landfill in Paducah, Ky. The new solar energy facility will be capable of powering about 600,000 homes. The TVA said in a November release that this is just one of multiple “intentional actions’’ the agency is taking towards decarbonization, including projects related to renewable energy, hydrogen, electric vehicles, energy storage and nuclear power.

The world’s most populous country — China — is now dealing with what other countries have experienced over the last decade or so; a population decline of massive proportions. Just about every developed country is going through this reduction in people.

China’s population was slammed dramatically after decades of the one-child policy to reduce population gains with a steady decline in births. We have been to China. No one we spoke to agreed with the one-child policy. That policy was loosened a few years back.

It’s economy, however, is now suffering. In 2022, 9.56 million births were recorded in China; 10.4 million people died and that does not include those who retired from the workforce. . .estimates currently range from 40 million to 60 million a year.

The U.S. is in the same boat. Every day, on average, over 10,000 people retire in this country. Only about 700 turn working age each day, according to the federal government. That’s a loss of more than 9,000 from the workforce on any given day in the U.S.

So, why is this important? It’s simple and we caught it and understood it in 2013. Demography is the greatest indicator of a growing or slowing economy. The more people in the workforce, the larger the labor shed, the larger the tax shed and without a growing population, nations’ economies have few answers on how to grow.

Then again, it’s not a really bad thing if government officials recognize the population shifts. Most European countries have seen population declines for a long time. Yet, they adjusted their economies. The U.S. and China’s economies remain based on GDP growth. Not so much in Europe.

You see, here is the rub. Both China and the U.S. base their nation’s budgets on the previous generation when it comes to taxes, etc., for taking care of their parents, grandparents and themselves at old age. With a declining population, how is that model going to work? It won’t.

How do you solve the problem? That issue is also very simple. The U.S. as well as China — the two largest economies in the world — need to incorporate a legitimate immigration policy where those who come here or there are welcomed, vetted, and are immediately placed into the workforce because that is why, for the most part, they are moving in the first place. With birth rates at all-time lows in both countries, there are no other solutions.

Look, you can blame whoever you want for the surge in migrants crossing the U.S. Southern border. Yet, you should put the blame on those who made them migrants or refugees in the first place in their home countries. Those folks just want a better life. With the proper vetting, we need them to add to our labor force. It’s not political. It’s just math.

Gov. John Bel Edwards announces $1.8 billion Louisiana port expansion.Gov. John Bel Edwards announces $1.8 billion Louisiana port expansion
In the winter quarter, Louisiana announced a new $1.8 billion container facility on the Lower Mississippi River. The facility is a partnership among the Port of New Orleans, New Jersey-based Ports America (one of North America’s largest marine terminal operators), and Geneva, Switzerland-based Mediterranean Shipping Company. The new Louisiana International Terminal (LIT) in St. Bernard Parish will be able to serve vessels of all sizes, dramatically increasing Louisiana’s import and export capacity and stimulating the creation of more than 17,000 new jobs statewide by 2050.

Union membership hit record low in 2022
Union membership in the United States fell last year to a new low even as major companies such as Amazon, Starbucks, Apple, Trader Joe’s and Chipotle saw significant labor union activity within their corporate spheres. The share of union membership in the workforce dropped to 10.1 percent in 2022, the lowest on record, as companies continue to flood the South — for the most part a non-union region — from high-union regions such as the Northeast and Midwest. The labor movement last year could not keep up as the booming job market added 5.3 million jobs, and nonunion jobs grew at a much faster clip than union

Florida is the fastest growing U.S. state
Last year, Florida was the fastest growing state in the U.S., according to the U.S. Census Bureau. It was the first time Florida outgrew all U.S. states since 1957. The nation’s third largest state netted over 400,000 new residents from July 2021 to July 2022. With the bounce, Florida’s population is estimated to be 22.24 million.

Texas gains more new residents than another state
Texas gained more new residents than any other state in the country from summer 2021 to summer 2022, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. During that time, Texas captured 477,708 new residents, the largest gain of any other state in the nation. The population of Texas now sits at 30,029,572 people. In terms of a percentage increase, Texas ranked fourth over the 12-month period gaining 1.6 percent. It trailed Florida, Idaho and South Carolina in population gains by percentage.

Kentucky knocking it out
Gov. Andy Beshear announced in January that economic development growth in Kentucky concluded its best two-year period for announced private-sector investment and job creation in state history. In 2022, 248 private-sector, new-location and expansion projects committed to invest nearly $10.5 billion and create 16,000 full-time jobs. Those figures position 2022 as Kentucky’s second highest year for new investment behind 2021’s record year. Wages continue to rise in the Commonwealth as well, as Kentucky’s average incentivized hourly wage for projects statewide in 2022 was $26.78 before benefits, an 11.5 percent increase over the 2021 mark of $24, and the second highest over an eight-year period.

Austin is No. 1 in sustainability
Austin-Round Rock-Georgetown has been named No. 1 in sustainability by Site Selection magazine. Four other Texas cities made the Top 10 for the South Central Region, and three more ranked in the Top 10 nationwide. Dallas-Fort Worth-Arlington ranked No. 2, and Houston-The Woodlands-Sugar Land is No. 3; San Antonio-New Braunfels is No. 5; and Waco is No. 8.

Energy startup proposes $7.5 billion investment in Ascension Parish, La.
Clean Hydrogen Works, a project development company established in 2021 that is focused on energy decarbonization solutions, announced it is exploring a plan to build a large-scale hydrogen-ammonia export and production facility in Ascension Parish. Doing business as Ascension Clean Energy (ACE), in partnership with Denbury Carbon Solutions and Hafnia, the company estimates the proposed $7.5 billion project would create 350 new direct jobs with an estimated average annual salary of $73,412 by 2030. If the project moves forward as outlined, Louisiana Economic Development estimates 1,122 new indirect jobs would result, for 1,472 total potential new jobs in the Capital Region.

Feds pick first two Gulf zones for offshore wind farms
The federal government has selected the first two areas for offshore wind development in the Gulf of Mexico. The U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management set boundaries for the two zones — a 174,000-acre area south of Lake Charles and a 508,000-acre area near Galveston, Texas.

Huntsville, Ala., most affordable housing market
Huntsville has been named one of the top 10 markets to watch in the coming year by the National Association of Realtors (NAR). Of all the top 10 real estate markets cited, Huntsville is the most affordable according to the NAR.

UNCC economist: No recession in 2022, nor one expected in 2023
University of North Carolina at Charlotte economist John Connaughton spoke at the North Carolina Economic Forecast and said the country did not slide into recession in 2022 and he expects the same in 2023. Overall, said Connaughton, the economy likely grew by about 3.4 percent in 2022.

Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin ginning up industrial sites
Gov. Glenn Youngkin is allocating $350 million for industrial site development in the Commonwealth. Called Virginia Business Ready Sites, the new allocation would bring the state’s total recent investments for site development to $500 million.

When NASA retired its space shuttles in 2011, the space program didn’t shut down, but rather shifted gears.Space Force: Still expecting hundreds of Florida launches in the coming years
If Space Force projections pan out, last year’s record 57 Florida launches are just the start of what could become a science fiction-like cadence of “multiple hundreds” of missions flying from Space Coast pads. Speaking to a packed National Space Club Florida Committee luncheon in Cape Canaveral, Space Force Maj. Gen. Stephen Purdy said Florida can expect a roughly 60 percent surge in the number of missions taking flight from the Eastern Range, which encompasses Cape Canaveral Space Force Station and NASA’s Kennedy Space Center. Purdy, recently promoted to major general, is commander of Space Launch Delta 45 and serves in three other space-related leadership roles.

Louisiana sets new lows for unemployment rate
The state of Louisiana’s unemployment rate dropped to 3.1 percent in the month of October. The figure is the lowest unemployment rate in state history.

Renters coming to the South look to Huntsville and Biloxi
According to and its analysis of rental data, two Southern markets are at the top of the most sought-after destinations. The Huntsville-
Decatur (Florence) metro area was the second most searched for destination in the country by renters, and Biloxi, Miss., was No. 1.

Alabama metro among top five in U.S. for manufacturing jobs
Decatur, Ala., located on the Tennessee River, has always been a haven for top-line manufacturers, such as United Launch Alliance and 3M. According to the website SmartAsset, Decatur is the second best place to work in manufacturing in the U.S., behind only Ames, Iowa.

White House cites Tennessee for billions in private investments
President Joe Biden’s chief economic advisor met with Nashville community leaders in January to tout federal investments in electric-vehicle and battery manufacturing and technology. Cecilia Rouse, chair of the Council of Economic Advisers, said the combined impact of Biden economic initiatives since 2021 spurred $15 billion in private investment across Tennessee. “Tennessee’s a great example of the president’s economic plan in action — attract private investment and create regional industrial hubs, including in Tennessee, for high-wage, high growth industries of the future,” Rouse said. “In 2021, Tennessee’s overall economy grew 9 percent in real terms — the fastest rate in four decades. In the first three quarters of 2022, Tennessee’s GDP grew more than 2 percentage points faster than that of the U.S. economy as a whole.”

New movie studio in Jackson, Miss., has a chance to change that city’s economy
If long-time Hollywood insider Robert Schnitzer has his way, Jackson could soon be a hub for international movie making. Schnitzer, along with local landowner and investor Charlotte Reeves, wants to create Mill Street Studios, a motion picture and media production facility, providing two 6,000-square-foot studios, two jumbo 17,000-square-foot sound stages, a 20-acre movie ranch, production offices and related support services.

What’s behind the growing number of manufacturing jobs?
In the years since the COVID-19 recession of early 2020, manufacturing jobs in the U.S. have recovered quicker than ever seen in modern history. Peaking in 1979, U.S. manufacturing reached something of a precipice in the 1980s. The U.S. remained a goods-producing country. While output was relatively steady, fewer Americans were employed to mine metals, assemble automobiles, and piece together military technology for the defense sector by the decade’s end. But from the mid-20th century through 2000, America was shedding jobs in manufacturing and gaining jobs in its service sector — now a hallmark sector of the country’s economy next to its highly advanced tech sector.

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