Economist says Fox Cities outlook is overall positive

Posted on Feb 14, 2020 :: Insight on Business, Web Exclusive
Jessica Thiel
Posted by of Insight Publications

While the Fox Cities faces some headwinds, its overall economic outlook is positive, economist Elliot Eisenberg told attendees at the Fox Cities Chamber of Commerce Economic Outlook Lunch.

“Wisconsin is fine. The general problem Wisconsin has is you’re a bit more of a manufacturing state than other states,” he said, noting that manufacturing is facing more volatility than other sectors, and that’s leading to some depressed growth.

On the immigration front, Wisconsin is seeing 47.4 percent of people moving in versus those leaving the state, so it’s losing a little bit of population. Compared to other upper Midwestern states “with similar high taxes and similar crappy weather,” Wisconsin is doing OK, says Eisenberg, who serves as chief economist for GraphsandLaughs, LLC. Minnesota is faring better on this front, and Illinois, Michigan and Iowa are doing worse.

With a rate between 3 and 3.3 percent, unemployment is “crazy low,” Eisenberg says. Employment growth is exceeding population growth, and that’s why the unemployment rate is declining.

“This is the problem we run into. Unemployment gets low, and then it can’t get lower,” Eisenberg says.

Like much of the rest of the nation, the biggest challenge the region faces is availability of quality workers. Construction activity also is weak, and there’s a lack of available housing.

The shortage of talent means it’s harder for businesses to grow. That’s projected to get worse, not better next year, Eisenberg says.

On the positive side, 90 percent of people in the chamber’s economic outlook survey described the Fox Cities as an excellent or good place to live.

“Despite the problem of lack of workers and the lack of profitability compared to the last year or two, people are just as happy as they were, which says a lot,” Eisenberg says.

Moving into the future, the state and nation face some uncertainty. Factors that could affect the economy include the coronavirus outbreak, struggling economies in Japan and Europe and the presidential election.

Overall, however, Eisenberg says there’s little to worry about at this point. “The economy is OK. It really is. We’re slowing, but we’re growing.”