Cause for economic optimism?
Area unemployment rates are the highest they’ve been in the last 15 years, but early rebounds in retail sales, real estate sales, and room occupancy tax collections are signs of strength for the local economy.
Experts predict a 3% decline in the national economy and a 1.6% drop in the state economy for 2009.
At a conference on the economy in southeastern North Carolina Tuesday economist Woody Hall predicted 1% growth by years end. “We’re not talking a growth rate in excess of 5%. We’re probably talking about growth rates that are sustainable over the next 10 to 15 years of maybe a max of 4%.
Before the economy can stabilize, Hall says local housing and retail markets must rebound from a downward trend. “Those are two of the big sectors that we must see some stabilizing in, that we must see some growth in, in order for the economy to turn around.”
Hall says the economy could begin to heat up along with the weather. “We tend to do better than we would possibly anticipate in the summer because we’re more of a drive in destination.”
Local residents are optimistic that destination could become more permanent, which would help the economy.
“All you have to do is look at the census bureau; the growth potential for North Carolina is pretty pronounced. Long term, I anticipate that our future is bright,” said Jeff Stader.
This is an idea national economists agree with. “We’re going to get in migration again and you need structures, so I think it’s going to be unavoidable that the construction sector is going to be important for the next decade or so,” said Tom Simpson.
But Hall says, before all that is possible, consumer confidence must rise. “I think a lot of it has to do with the willingness of the consumer to spend.”
Hall also predicted a 3% growth in the local economy for 2010, but he says unemployment rates will continue to rise until sometime after a recovery sets in.
Right now, it’s too early to predict when that will happen.
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