By Teresa Vise
North Jefferson News
Jan. 22, 2011 —
The Birmingham Business Journal and several key corporate sponsors played host to the Economic Forecast update this week held at the Harbert Center. Noted speakers included Dr. Sam Addy of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Alabama, Dr. Andrea Rauterkus, Assistant Professor of Finance at UAB, Dr. Chris Westley, Associate Professor at Jacksonville, and Tom Nelson, economic analyst for Vulcan Materials. Scholarly leaders they are, and let me share with you some of their insight for what 2011 holds for us.
Firstly, while optimistic, the group remains cautious and warned to take improvements in the market in the proper context. The recession was in fact a long time coming, and due to our behaviors. The slow structural change has been frustrating, and corrections have been slowing due to incessant government interventions. There was a collective agreement that the corrections need to occur to right the wrongs of the past and move us toward sustainable growth.
Since the recession, saving has increased and borrowers are starting to behave. (I am talking individual here, certainly not US Government.) This is the true heart of wealth creation and it is really just that simple. It does take the hard work of self discipline and the high need for self control and delayed gratification. Unfortunately, these are not common terms at the average American dinner table. The Business Cycle is built from the simple notion that sustainable growth is born in a person who saves so that they can invest in a company. That company then builds more stuff that we can buy. Buy more of our stuff, and they can hire more people.
Wealth has become valued more realistically of late, and we are moving into a new normal. The GDP is expected to grow at about 3.5% and employment at only 1.4% or 2 million jobs nationally. The public sector is starting to realize that it needs to contribute, and not just consume to get us back on track. This is a key realization as policy makers search for what is optimal and sustainable to address what we see as a decline of the middle class. The need to address and support small business was a message laced through all four presenters’ comments. Dr. Addy was keen to remind the audience that all large companies were indeed at once a small business. He gave the challenge to the audience to look at the system which creates the dynamic that allows the growth of small business.
So which sector will lead us into this growth? According to the group certainly healthcare will continue to grow both locally and nationally, and it will add jobs. Education will continue to be challenged by the limits of state financial revenues, and interestingly manufacturing will grow about 5%, but not add any measurable amount of jobs. Manufacturing is learning to do its work better, and as the daily reports of downsizing show, they are doing it with fewer workers.
The banking sector will continue to compete for a smaller group of potential borrowers, and market indicators are pointing to a continued rise in interest rates. Many countries are attempting growth by currency devaluation, and they all agreed that this will prolong any recovery in the market place. On a more local level, all discussed the need for a community bank that takes on a personal banker role to small business. This will open the door to loans based on tangible business models, not just credit models, and a keep a needed check on the veracity of loan access and pay back.
What about the debt? According to the US Debt Clock (www.usdebtclock.org) we are 14 trillion in debt with 1 trillion owed to China. We owe Japan nearly that same amount, and the United Kingdom half a trillion. This is clearly a very big number, and the debt clock is pretty scary let me tell you. I am really a bit sorry that I found it, and it is truly mesmerizing to sit and watch these astronomical numbers click away glibly before your very eyes. It is truly stunning to see in real time our debt, and how it breaks down to a per tax payer burden of about $45,000. By the way, only 1 in 3 pay taxes, and you can see that on the debt clock too. Next time you hear someone talking about “spreading the responsibility” or “everyone doing their fair share” to support this bail out or that bail out, remember that fine point.
All in all, better to know the facts as you make decisions going forward. Yes, 2010 was a disappointing year, but the trough occurred in June of 2009 actually. Our pick up will sputter, and our speakers maintained that the outlook should improve by the second half of this year. So hang in and hang on as we are not out of the woods just yet.
Take care of your customers, or someone else will.
You can find additional readings on Teresa’s blog at http://businessadvise4u.blogspot.com.
Teresa works for Sanofi-Aventis Pharmaceuticals and supports the Fultondale Chamber of Commerce. The next gathering of the Fultondale Chamber will be held on Jan. 27 from 7:30 until 9 a.m. for the State of the City Address. You can join the Fultondale Chamber of Commerce by calling 337-1629 or email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
No RSVP is needed for this event.