Economics of every story (session 2): Covering your local economy

By Kira Zalan

To find local angles on economic news, look closely at what’s going on in your community, says Marilyn Geewax, senior editor and national economics correspondent for National Public Radio. Jobs and housing are two national themes that can often be localized.

In some communities, for example, employers can’t fill jobs. “There are great stories to be done in your community about reasons for mismatches,” said Geewax, after playing a clip of an NPR story on why the booming oil industry is struggling to find workers, even with great salaries and benefits. The reporter, Jeff Brady, found that students had bad perceptions of the industry’s environmental impact and were not interested in the job openings. “There are lots of reasons why good jobs don’t get filled,” said Geewax. “Dig around.”

Reliable unemployment statistics can be found on the Bureau on Labor Statistics website, broken down by state and local area. Another important resource, said Geewax, is people. She suggested talking to members of the community for story ideas, checking websites like Craigslist to locate companies that are hiring, or calling a local realtor association for insight of what’s happening in the community. “You can do the most mundane things and get the best stories,” said Geewax.

Stories on housing are second only to stories on jobs, according to the NPR editor. Different communities have different demographics that will impact the future of the local housing market differently, said Geewax. Are there Baby Boomers that will downsize and sell? Are there enough young people in your community to buy houses? Are they struggling with youthful debt like student loans and car loans? Are local salaries keeping up with housing costs? Is your locality encouraging immigration to fill vacant homes or razing them instead?

Center on Budget and Policy Priorities provides links for local housing info, including state and U.S. Census statistics. Standard and Poor’s Shiller Home Price Index also has data about your local housing market.

Geewax summarized three reliable ways to localize economic news: company profiles (local entrepreneurs, factories, restaurants); narrative stories about local economy (example: “Recession Hitting Ohio’s Former Steel Towns Hard,” by Anne Hull, Washington Post); and putting a local face on national statistics (take national statistic and go to your local guy, talk to renters and landlords, said Geewax)

Asked for advice by a JAWdess in the audience on where to locate information and data on local businesses, Geewax said: “Get to know your local community bankers. Sometimes they know more than anyone.” Another piece of advice: don’t forget your middle market businesses. “Those companies are often the real backbone of the economy.”

Other good sources for economic reporting: the Small Business Administration and the Chamber of Commerce. Both have economists and statistics that can be valuable resources.