Fed: Economy Continued to Expand; Staffing Was Mixed


Economic activity continued to expand across most regions from mid-February through the end of March, according to the Federal Reserve Board’s latest report on regional economies (known as the “beige book”). In most districts, labor market conditions remained stable or continued to show modest improvement. Companies in many districts reported having difficulty finding skilled workers, especially in professional and business services and the information technology sectors. Staffing firms reported mixed demand, with some noting difficulty finding workers to fill orders—in part due to inclement weather. In some districts, staffing firms reported a pickup in the number of job openings and placements, but demand abated in some cities. Wage pressures were moderate across most of the country, but contacts in some districts reported that wages increased to attract skilled workers for difficult-to-fill positions.


Business activity continued to expand in the district. With a few exceptions, retailers, manufacturers, and business services firms reported increases in revenue compared with a year earlier. Most consulting and advertising contacts cited moderate to strong results. Consulting and advertising firms plan on hiring in 2015, apart from a government consultant that plans to keep personnel flat in New England this year. Most of the planned hiring represents modest increases in employment. Contacts are planning for slight to moderate pay raises over last year, although technical positions such as information technology, coding, and web development remained hard to fill and demanded premiums.

New York

Growth in the district’s economy slowed to a modest pace. The labor market was mixed, though there continued to be reports of increased wage pressures. Manufacturers and service-sector firms reported they are expanding their workforces and planning to do so in the months ahead. One major New York City staffing business reported that hiring activity picked up and salaries received more of a lift than in recent years. This contact also noted that management consulting firms hired more often, and that IT workers were increasingly being hired by more traditional (nontechnology) companies. Another major employment firm reported that job listings remained strong but also noticed a significant slowdown in the speed with which companies were making job offers.


Aggregate business activity in the district continued to grow at a modest pace, including staffing firms and other general service-sector firms. About half of all service-sector firms continued to report increases in new orders and sales, but during this reporting period, more firms reported decreases in new orders and sales. A central Pennsylvania staffing contact reported that his firm was very busy and that the unemployment rate in the area was very low. The contact also reported that there were more open positions than unemployed workers. Several service-sector firms reported little or no wage pressure. Among all service-sector contacts, nearly three-fourths reported expectations that growth trends for their firms will remain positive over the next six months; none anticipated declines.


The district’s economy expanded at a slight pace during the reporting period. Payrolls were little changed on net. Activity at manufacturing plants was mixed. Staffing firms reported a pickup in the number of job openings and placements in the health care, IT, and manufacturing industries. Upward pressure on wages was limited to experienced and technically skilled personnel in construction and freight hauling. Difficulty in attracting and retaining drivers and maintenance technicians put significant upward pressure on wages for both job categories.


The district’s economy grew at a moderately faster pace during the most recent reporting period, except in manufacturing, which saw shipments and new orders fall as winter weather forced shutdowns. Manufacturing employment grew marginally, and average wages increased modestly. The demand for labor generally increased. Positions were added in banking, manufacturing, engineering, health services, IT, transportation, and agriculture. Demand picked up for skilled manufacturing workers, managers and supervisors, and high-level IT and biotechnology professionals. Increased turnover was also widely reported in the district. Difficulties finding employees was reported in banking, trucking, and biotech. In the service sector, hiring rose slightly while wage growth moderated.


The district’s economy continued to grow at a steady pace. The majority of firms reported a positive outlook for growth over the next three to six months. Manufacturing contacts witnessed increased employment levels, with solid growth in new orders and production. District trucking companies indicated the need to expand capacity, reflecting increases in demand for freight services. On balance, businesses reported that they added to payrolls. However, contacts continued to note difficulty filling workers for skilled and professional positions. Increasing turnover was also described as a challenge. Layoffs were reported in areas with heavy ties to energy exploration; however, the situation provided some relief to firms that compete with the energy industry for workers. Outside of high-demand and specialized skill positions, wage pressures were subdued.


Growth in economic activity in the district remained modest. Consumer spending, business spending, and manufacturing production all grew somewhat. Employment grew at a moderate pace and contacts expect this pace to continue through the rest of the year. A staffing firm reported steady demand for its services. In contrast, some manufacturers facing weaker demand reported cutting back on hours. Contacts continued to indicate that demand was strongest for skilled workers, particularly for those in professional and technical occupations and skilled manufacturing and building trades. Wage pressures continued to be more pronounced for skilled workers than for unskilled workers, although there were more reports of wage increases for unskilled workers than in the previous reporting period.

St. Louis

Economic activity in the district increased at a modest pace. Reports of planned activity were mixed—negative from the manufacturing sector, and positive from the service sector. Firms that provide warehousing, storage, health care, social assistance, and business support services reported new hiring and expansion plans. In contrast, several firms in air transportation, truck transportation, and advertising services said they plan to lay off employees. One manufacturing contact suggested that it has become increasingly difficult to hire and keep quality staff. Transportation industry contacts continue to note that wages for employees with critical skills are increasing faster than wages for other positions.


The district economy grew moderately since the previous report. Increased activity was noted in consumer spending, commercial and residential construction and real estate, and professional services. Activity was flat in manufacturing and tourism, while activity decreased in energy and mining and in agriculture. Labor markets were mixed, with a number of layoffs—most notably in Minnesota, where a retailer announced 1,700 layoffs and iron ore plants reported they will lay off more than 1,100 workers as operations idle. Despite layoff announcements, several businesses continued to report difficulty filling open positions. Overall wage increases were moderate. Business contacts generally reported wage gains of 2%–3%; however, there were a few reports of companies increasing their starting wage level.

Kansas City

Economic activity in the district was little changed from the prior reporting period, with mixed conditions across sectors. Consumer spending declined slightly, despite some pickup in tourism activity. District manufacturing activity also fell slightly, and transportation and wholesale trade firms reported weaker activity. Professional and technology firms noted a rebound in activity from previous months, and bankers reported solid loan demand, stable loan quality, and steady deposits. Prices rose slightly in most industries, while firms in many sectors reported increased wage pressures as well as labor shortages for specific positions.


The district’s economy grew at a moderate pace. Employment in most industries held steady or increased. Hiring was noted by most airlines and restaurants, and scattered employment increases were seen among staffing, retail, and transportation services firms. Several manufacturers increased payrolls. Most nonfinancial services firms reported demand was flat or up. Staffing firms said demand abated in Houston and Fort Worth, and that Dallas was the source of much of the growth in demand. Finance, IT, accounting, and hospitals were noted as areas of strength, while sectors within or supporting the oil and gas industry saw the biggest pullback. Demand for professional and technical services experienced a broad-based increase over the reporting period, with a rise in business for accounting, legal, and consulting services.

San Francisco

Economic activity in the district continued to improve moderately. Overall manufacturing activity improved modestly; retail sales and demand for business and consumer services also increased. Spending at restaurants rose, boosted by low gas prices. Contacts in the technology industry expect business spending on software to accelerate in 2015, especially in the security, cloud computing, and analytics segments. In areas with active residential construction, demand for engineering and architectural services was strong. Contacts in the health care industry reported that significant losses by insurers in the wake of health reform generated downward pressure on the price of health care services. Wages for software developers and specialized workers in aerospace and health care continued to increase.


About the American Staffing Association

The American Staffing Association is the voice of the U.S. staffing, recruiting, and workforce solutions industry. ASA and its state affiliates advance the interests of the industry across all sectors through advocacy, research, education, and the promotion of high standards of legal, ethical, and professional practices. For more information about ASA, visit americanstaffing.net.


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