Tracking the Effects of Covid-19 on Georgia’s Economy
New Public Access Data Portal Created by Scheller Students and Faculty
When students in Mike Messner's MGMT 4803 Active Hedge Fund Management class began picking stocks for real-time investing at the start of the Spring semester, China had just announced a new virus emerging from Wuhan. Messner, Scheller Professor of the Practice with over 23 years of experience on Wall Street, had divided the class into small groups with each one responsible for monitoring stocks within a specific industry sector.
The economy was booming. The group watching healthcare stocks also started tracking the number of cases coming from Wuhan and began noticing an upward curve. “They started getting a bit antsy,” Messner recalled. “We were very much up to speed on what we thought was going to be localized in China, but clearly, it wasn’t,” he said, thinking back to those early days.
Suddenly, the market started falling and not just in healthcare. Over the next few weeks, students following the transportation industry watched their stocks decline and students monitoring the energy sector watched oil prices take a nose-dive. In fact, all sectors plunged. According to Messner, the virus then became the number one concern as they watched it take hold of the market.
The class decided to pivot from looking at stocks in the U.S. industry sectors to monitoring industries in the Georgia economy to see how Covid-19 was impacting the state’s overall health. “There was a lot of experience being built up in watching these markets, so we thought, ‘Let’s take that experience and create a website to track Georgia industries,’" he stated. Their mission became to collect and provide real-time, ongoing data and share it with the citizens of Georgia.
‘Understanding Exactly What Has Happened’
With the support of students in the Financial Services Innovation Lab within Scheller and sponsorship by the Speedwell Foundation, the website took form. It now contains data from 11 industry sectors including health care, employment, public companies, real estate, sales tax, transportation, air travel, hotels, and municipal bonds. The ability to show each segment’s health at a glance makes it one of a kind.
For example, data from the healthcare industry is collected weekly, and sometimes daily from the Georgia Department of Public Health and the Covid Tracking Project. At a single glance, viewers can see graphs on the number of tests, deaths, and hospitalizations, along with maps of Georgia showing where the outbreaks are occurring by county. The page also breaks down the number of cases by age, ethnicity, and race.
Sidney Lofton, an undergraduate student at Scheller, is covering the real estate market. “I think the first thing this project will do is open everyone’s eyes to the impact this pandemic has had on the Georgia economy. Everyone knows it’s been a tough few months for the entire country and the world but seeing the numbers and graphs will help people understand what exactly has happened,” she said. For instance, her findings show that the commercial real estate market is being impacted more significantly than the residential market - data that is useful in real estate planning.
Because the project is ongoing, Lofton and fellow students continue to gather data even though the semester is over. Dr. Sudheer Chava, Alton M. Costley Chair, professor of Finance, and director of the Quantitative and Computational Finance (QCF) Program, oversees the Financial Services Innovation Lab and sees an additional value to their work. “The students are getting the real-world experience they can add to their CV,” he noted.
In fact, some students in Messner’s class were preparing for their summer internships when the pandemic hit and lost these opportunities. The Speedwell Foundation, a gift from Messner and his wife, is providing additional support to the students as well as the project. “We’ve supported professorships in Civil Engineering and the Georgia Tech Promise campaign so it’s just a logical extension of what we’ve done. We’ve always thought that the investment in Georgia Tech gives us a high return because you’re graduating very smart, capable kids who are contributors to society,” he said.
‘The More People Involved, the More Capable We Are of Providing Data’
The project is also expanding to include students from other schools within the Tech ecosystem. “There’s undergraduate students, master’s students, and PhDs from Scheller as well as from the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering and City and Regional Planning. The more people involved and the more collaboration there is, the more capable we are of providing data that is important and useful to the Georgia community,” said Chava.
Rachael Panik, PhD student in the School of Civil and Environmental Engineering heard about the project from her advisor, Dr. Kari Watkins, Frederick Law Olmsted associate professor. “People are changing the way they travel not only because of the economy but also for public health reasons. While it’s not clear what this will mean for the future, it’s important to track these trends now so that we can continue to learn about the relationship between travel and the economy,” she said.
‘It’s Not Just About Data Analysis, But Doing Something Purposeful’
The project will continue under Chava’s supervision and the students will be adding surveys and interviews with representatives from organizations such as the Georgia Restaurant Association and the Georgia Department of Transportation. They’ve already started a podcast series which is available on the site. “We want to bring in the human element,” Chava said.
He and Messner also plan to continue the project after the pandemic is contained with the possibility of adding more industries and statistics over time and foresees the project having far-reaching effects not just in learning about how industries will be affected in the long term, but in what students gain at a personal level. “One thing I like is drawing Georgia Tech students into a meaningful exercise that helps society. It’s not just about data analysis but doing something purposeful and meaningful that will have an impact on society."