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Revamped Economic Forums Provide Even More Perspectives

Saturday, April 1, 2006

The more you know, the better off you-and your bank-are. McCall Wilson, president of the Bank of Fayette County in Moscow, Tenn., practically lives by those words. An avid bookworm, the CPA-turned-banker takes every opportunity he can to learn-especially from the Federal Reserve.

"When I attended last year's Fed Economic Forum in Memphis, I sat and talked with people I normally would never come into contact with," he says. "The forum was packed; we heard valuable information from very smart sources across a number of sectors that you'd probably have to pay a consultant to get."

Wilson is one of many bankers who participate in the Fed's newly revamped Economic Forums, formerly labeled District Dialogues. For three decades, the Eighth District has conducted forum-style meetings and lunches with bankers throughout the seven-state area. Originally, the dialogues were vehicles for the Fed to stay in touch with bankers out in the district concerning, among other things, matters of Fed financial services.

While those dialogues and lunches were mutually beneficial to the Fed and bankers alike, the Fed decided to revamp the program by changing the format, adding business and community leaders and academics to the mix, giving it a new name—the Economic Forum—and altering the focus.

"Our primary goal continues to be gleaning as much anecdotal information as possible to form a more complete picture of the District's economy," says Joel James, Banking Relations officer at the St. Louis Fed.

"The anecdotal information is valuable and helps us, including St. Louis Fed President Bill Poole, deepen our understanding of what's going on throughout the District. The forums also help us create and maintain relationships between the Fed and its branches and our customers." (See the Feditorial for First Vice President Dave Sapenaro's thoughts on the Economic Forums' role in the Fed's Branching Out efforts.)

New features include:

  • pre-forum survey on each participant's views on regional economic conditions and opinions;
  • roundtable discussions at each table during dinner, by a Fed employee or a volunteer;
  • compilation of each table's discussions; and
  • a meeting summary by Bill Poole.

To date, participant feedback from last year's events in Louisville, Little Rock, Memphis and Quincy, Ill., indicates that the new format is giving bankers and business leaders a helpful and unique perspective of their regions. Among recent participants is Carlton Davis, president of Warren Bank & Trust in southern Arkansas, who attended last year's Economic Forum in Little Rock, as well as several of the old District Dialogues. The exchange of information with his peers from other parts of the state is what he likes best.

"For example, last year we got to hear from bankers and businesspersons about the condition of the housing market in northwest Arkansas-which has no resemblance to our market in the southern part of the state, but it was useful to see how they were dealing with commercial loans, something we're wanting to do more of," he says.

"We'd have to go upstate and talk to them ourselves, where they understandably might not be willing to share such information with their competitors," Davis says. "But when you're talking to the Fed in that setting, you have a tendency to open up more."

James explains that the forums are a "safe" place to talk. "Because they aren't public or media events, the forums are conducive to more open discussion, and participants aren't so fearful that they're giving away valuable information to their competition."

The first 2006 Economic Forum is scheduled for March 14 in Bowling Green, Ky. Contact James at (314) 444-8963, or 1-800-333-0810, ext. 44-8963 for more information on this and future forums.