Economists tell Pierce County business leaders that the recovery will continue

Staff writerJanuary 9, 2014 

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Dr. Martin Wurm, center and Dr. Neal Johnson, left, professors of economics at Pacific Lutheran University , deliver the 20014 economic forecast during the annual Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber breakfast Thursday 1/9/2014 at the Bicentennial pavilion in Tacoma.

DEAN J. KOEPFLER — Staff/Photographer

Steady. Slow. But still a recovery.

That was the message Thursday morning at the annual Horizons Economic Forecast breakfast meeting sponsored by the Tacoma-Pierce County Chamber.

Economists – one national, two local ­– told the sold out crowd of more than 500 that the numbers look good heading into 2014.

Good, but not spectacular. Good, but not necessarily what might have been anticipated given stronger recoveries recorded following previous recessions.

“We have been in an economy that has not performed very well,” said keynote speaker Martin Regalia, chief economist at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.

Since the first light of the recovery, “it’s been very, very slow going,” he said. “People don’t feel that we’re out of the recession.”

But wait. “Consumption is finally getting back to where it should be,” he said.

And that should lead to a national growth rate this year of 3.5 percent. Interest rates will not increase dramatically. There is no housing bubble, as some analysts have said. Banks are “becoming less hesitant to lend.”

Finally, he said, “The economy is starting to grow faster than it was in the past.”

Following Regalia’s report, Pacific Lutheran University economics professors Martin Wurm and Neal Johnson presented their iteration of the Pierce County Economic Index Report. This was their first  presentation of the predictions, which were first established 26 years ago by professors Douglas Goodman and Bruce Mann of the University of Puget Sound.

Among the findings from Wurm and Johnson:

  • The Pierce County economy, as measured by the PCEI, will grow by 1.8 percent in 2014.
  • Employment in the county will increase by 4,600 jobs, this after the addition of 3,900 last year.
  • The unemployment rate, which hit 11 percent in 2010, will drop from 7.4 percent at the end of 2013 to 7 percent by the end of 2014.
  • After considering inflation, workers in the county will see their income  increase by 2.1 percent. There will be fewer foreclosures and fewer bankruptcies.
  • Retail sales will increase 4.2 percent.
  • Average rents will increase by 2.3 percent in the county.

“The Pierce County economy has been through some tough years,” Wurm said. And now, well into a slow recovery, “the numbers are looking better, but they are not looking great quite yet.”

Following the presentations, Chamber President and CEO Tom Pierson said the numbers were “in line with what I hear from individual businesses. It’s slow and steady, and it’s positive.”

For Wurm and Johnson, the experience of compiling the latest Index and offering it to a room of some 500 business leaders was a bit daunting.

“It’s not a forum we’re used to,” Wurm said. “The audience knows more about it .”

“We’re generalists speaking to experts,” said Johnson.

Still, they said, they hope to return in 2015.

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