The Federal Reserve reaches into local communities to help them thrive

New $100 notes lay in stacks at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing  in Washington, D.C.
New $100 notes lay in stacks at the Bureau of Engraving and Printing in Washington, D.C. Getty Images

By many measures our economy is humming. Unemployment is near a 20-year low. Companies are posting job openings at historically high levels. Yet we continue to face complex challenges.

For example, the nation’s labor force is growing slowly compared to historical norms. Forces shaping the labor market are among many factors we at the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta consider in making monetary and regulatory policy. While it may be obvious how our work matters to businesses and investors, others may wonder whether they should care. They should, and for many reasons.

When Hurricane Maria ravaged Puerto Rico last fall, the Atlanta Fed’s Miami office was there to keep desperately needed cash flowing to the island. When the nation’s economy teetered near calamity a decade ago, the Federal Reserve was there to supply essential financing and steady the markets. These emergency actions draw attention. But the central bank’s routine work is equally critical to ensuring the stability of the economy and the financial system and payments networks that underpin it.

Let’s cover a few basics. One of 12 regional Federal Reserve Banks, the Atlanta Fed carries out five fundamental functions:

1. We make monetary policy. As a member of the Federal Open Market Committee (FOMC), I help set an influential interest rate. The goal is to promote maximum employment, stable prices (so your money doesn’t quickly lose value) and moderate long-term interest rates.

2. We regulate banking companies to make sure they behave responsibly. Our examination teams monitor numerous smaller institutions and three large banking firms based in the Southeast.

3. We promote financial stability. Atlanta Fed economists and bank examiners conduct research and monitor risks to the financial system to help limit disruptions. We ensure that when crises do hit, institutions can keep lending to support a healthy economy.

4. We foster efficiency and safety in the nation’s payments systems. The Atlanta Fed manages the Fed System’s Retail Payments Office, which processes billions of dollars a day in electronic and check transactions, including federal government payments.

5. We further consumer protection and community and economic development. Through research and outreach, the Atlanta Fed seeks to understand the impact of financial policies and practices on individuals and communities. We have various ways to stay plugged in across our six Southeast offices. Business and community leaders on our boards of directors and advisory councils offer insight on financial and economic conditions in their communities and industries. Our current Atlanta board chair, in fact, is Michael Jackson, CEO of Fort Lauderdale-based AutoNation Inc.

In addition, each branch employs staff dedicated to tracking their area economies. Miami regional executive Karen Gilmore and her team maintain contact with businesspeople and leaders in the nonprofit sector and local communities across south Florida. This intelligence adds texture to the economic data we collect.

After all, the data tell us only what has already happened. Our contacts tell us what they’re experiencing now and expecting in the future. This helps us prepare for new trends before they hit the wider economy. Our Miami branch also houses banking supervision and regulation professionals who examine financial institutions, including the domestic offices of foreign-based banks. Meanwhile, our Miami shop processes cash practically around the clock. Notably, Miami handles more U.S. currency coming from or going to other countries than any Fed facility besides the New York Fed.

This is a small sample of what we do. I understand that the normal work of the Federal Reserve can seem distant from citizens' everyday lives. But it’s not. We’re here, including in Miami, working to keep the economy and financial system on sound footing for the benefit of the public. As Chairman Jerome Powell said in February, “Our financial system is now far stronger and more resilient than it was before the financial crisis that began about a decade ago. We intend to keep it that way.”

Raphael Bostic is president and CEO of the Federal Reserve Bank of Atlanta.