The East South Central region of the country scored the biggest gains in consumer confidence last year, according to an analysis released today by The Conference Board.

This area, which includes Kentucky, Tennessee, Alabama and Mississippi, also registered solid increases in help-wanted job advertising in such key cities as Birmingham, Ala., and Knoxville, Louisville, Memphis and Nashville, Tenn.

The Conference Board’s Consumer Confidence Index for this region climbed from 76 to 104 last year. During the same period, The Conference Board’s Help-Wanted Job Advertising Index for the region, a barometer of America’s job market, advanced from 80 to 85.

Conference Board Economist Ken Goldstein said Birmingham is worth watching because “as Birmingham goes, so goes the nation.”

“The East South Central region was red hot back in the late 1990s. It would not be surprising if this region becomes one of the first to catch fire now that the economy, and even the job market, is starting to boom. Nothing soothes the consumers’ nerves more than reports of more jobs opening up,” he said in a statement.

States in the Pacific region, which includes Washington, Oregon, California, Alaska and Hawaii, and the New England region, which includes Connecticut, Massachusetts, Maine, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont, also showed striking gains in consumer confidence. Consumer confidence in the Pacific region increased from 70 to 95 last year. In New England, the index climbed from 74 to 99.

Consumer confidence also improved markedly in the West North Central, South Atlantic and Mountain regions. Each region marked gains of more than 20 points in the last year.

Consumer confidence was weakest in the East North Central region, which includes Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. Consumer confidence in that area increased only 4.2 points last year and help-wanted advertising remained flat during the period.

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