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Fed Listens Fosters Feedback on Post-Pandemic Recovery

Fed Listens event

Richmond Fed leaders and Federal Reserve Governor Michelle Bowman spent two hours earlier this month listening to business, civic and nonprofit leaders share their perspectives on how the local economy has fared since the pandemic.

During Fed Listens: Transitioning to the Post-Pandemic Economy, a community listening session hosted on October 18 at the Bank’s downtown Richmond headquarters, the panelists and guests who participated in person indicated that the effects of the Covid lockdown, and accompanying shift in consumer spending, continue to impact their decision-making.

Richmond Fed Community Affairs Officer Carrie Cook and Bank President Tom Barkin, opened the program for in-person attendees as well as for a livestream audience of more than 150 participants and welcomed their feedback.

“Listening matters to those of us who need to understand the economy,” Barkin said, noting that he and other Bank leaders frequently canvas the territory overseen by the Richmond Fed and participated in more than 1,700 engagements in Virginia, Maryland, North Carolina, South Carolina, Washington, D.C., and parts of West Virginia last year. “The data we get comes in late. It’s then revised multiple times. It’s aggregated, which gives you a limited ability to drill down. It’s notoriously poor at identifying turning points. In contrast, our investment in listening helps us better evaluate what’s happening, to whom and why. We make better decisions with better understanding.”

Governor Bowman, who Barkin described as a driving force behind Fed Listens, agreed. Under her leadership, Fed Listens was established as a community listening vehicle at all 12 Reserve Banks, and Bowman has spent the year attending most, if not all, of the sessions.

She told the Richmond Fed audience that Federal Reserve leaders are taking into consideration the information they’re receiving in local communities “as part of a broad, comprehensive review of the decision-making framework that we use to pursue our monetary policy goals of maximum employment and price stability.”

She further shared: “Through Fed Listens and our other (Federal Reserve) Board and system convenings, we are able to gain important insights about economic conditions by engaging with those who are experiencing the economy directly. From the considerations families are making in spending decisions to businesses deciding whether to apply for loans, these conversations help us look beneath the national level data to see how Americans in different areas of the country are faring.”

Cook moderated a conversation with panelists Neil Amin, CEO of Shamin Hotels; Kevin Price, President and CEO of the National Institute of Minority Economic Development; and Nancy Thomas, CEO of InUnison (formerly known as the Retail Merchants Association).

Thomas shared recent survey findings from local retailers that revealed their concerns about higher costs of operation and whether the holiday buying season will be robust enough this year to buffer the lull in buying they usually experience early in the new year.

“They are challenged to stay on top of pricing,” Thomas said. So far, “customers are complaining about price increases, but still buying. People are looking at receipts and questioning service fees.”

Amin shared data as well and explained how location factored into how his broad portfolio of hotels across Virginia, Maryland and North Carolina fared during and after the pandemic.

“At the height of the pandemic, revenues declined by 50 percent across the state of Virginia, but only by 30 percent in Virgina Beach,” Amin said.

“One year forward, in 2021, as people were starting to get vaccinated, Virginia Beach’s revenue was 15 percent above the revenue in 2019,” he said. “In 2022, as business travel came back and people pared down on leisure travel, Northern Virginia made up the decrease it had suffered, and today it’s flat – Northern Virginia has the same revenue as it had in 2019. There is a lot of optimism on the corporate side for next year. We’re expecting a double digit increase in room rates for corporate and group sales.”

Price shared how his organization provided millions of dollars in grants during the pandemic to help low- and moderate-income small businesses stay afloat, when many people couldn’t work outside the home or serve customers. “We gave over $41 million to 2,000 businesses in two years and touched all 100 counties of North Carolina. We found them and made sure they stayed alive.”

His organization has turned its attention to helping small business owners secure capital to grow — funds they might not otherwise be able to access — so that they can thrive post-pandemic, he said.

The panel discussion was followed by a half-hour session of sharing among tablemates about their experiences, concerns and expectations for the year ahead. Before the program ended, they summarized some of their hopes and their concerns to Barkin and Bowman, leaving a consensus that higher income earners may be feeling more optimism than lower-income workers, who continue to struggle to find affordable housing and have other needs met.

“It feels like we’re in a more volatile world, including international exposures we can’t foresee,” one audience member shared.

Fed Listens is available for viewing on the Bank’s YouTube channel.

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Jim Strader (804) 697-8956 (804) 332-0207 (mobile)