Deep South economic outlook: a mixed bag for 1983

Planning to visit or move to the Deep South? Or buy a shirt, a household appliance, or a car? If so, you will probably be giving a boost to this end of the Sunbelt. And despite stories of the booming economy in Sunbelt states, this region needs all the boosts it can get.

Latest economic forecasts for the region are mixed.

Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina are expected do well this year, perhaps outpacing the national recovery, thanks to the continued arrival of tourists, retirees, and new industries. But other states, from Louisiana to Tennessee to South Carolina, are lagging and are not really expected to get rolling again until people start buying more, according to the latest assessment by economists at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.

Since the Deep South makes everything from steel for heavy industry and tires for cars to household furnishings and appliances, almost anything Americans buy may involve Southern labor.

Images of Southern cotton fields are best updated by images of soybean fields located behind a row of factories. In 1950 in Mississippi, for example, agriculture accounted for 43 percent of the state's workers and manufacturing only 13 percent. Today, agriculture is just 8 percent of the work force, while manufacturing is 25 percent.

And any leftover images of a monolithic, booming Sunbelt - images sometimes encouraged by simplified headlines about ''the South'' - belie the facts, caution economists at the Federal Reserve Bank in their forecast for the Southeast's economy in 1983.

The Fed's analysis is ''very much on target'' and similar to some of his own findings, says economist Duncan Wilcox of Chase Econometrics. As a whole, the Deep South's economy is close to the nation's, but some states, most notably Florida, run ahead, he says.

The Southeast has 5 of the 10 poorest large cities in the nation, including Atlanta and New Orleans, according to the latest data from the US Census Bureau.

State by state, the Federal Reserve forecast looks this way:

Florida. Lower mortgage rates will boost the number of people moving to Florida this year to 225,000 or more, spurring construction later this year. Walt Disney's new Epcot Center is expected to draw an extra 2 million tourists to central Florida. But fewer may go to Miami, which also counts on Latin American trade that is now depressed.

Georgia. Led by Atlanta, the state will benefit from a continued stream of newcomers plus a major naval project - a coastal base for Trident nuclear submarines. But Atlanta's glitter of new construction is marred by the poverty of its many unskilled workers unable to take new openings in skilled jobs. And the state's varied industries await national revival.

North Carolina. Due to a reviving textile industry, efforts to sell its products elsewhere, and a successful drive to attract more high-tech industry, the state is expected to outperform the nation. But revival of its home-furnishings and other industries requires a boost from buyers in other states - in other words, national economic recovery.

The outlook for the other Deep South states is less bright.

Without a World's Fair this year, some parts of Tennessee's economy are expected to decline. But manufacturers there are optimistic that their factories , many of them not very old, will see greater use as soon as the national economy picks up. Louisiana, an oil and gas producer hit by surpluses of both, will get some help from construction of the 1984 World Exposition in New Orleans , expected to draw some 11 million visitors there.

Hard-hit manufacturing industries in Mississippi and Alabama depend on a national recovery. Alabama has been running one of the nation's highest unemployment rates. South Carolina is shifting to more varied sources of jobs, but the shift is far from complete, and the state has been in the doldrums since 1979, with no fast recovery considered likely.

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