Good days ahead

Economic reports: A robust regional economy

Posted on Mar 1, 2016 :: Up Front
Sean P. Johnson
Posted by , Insight on Business Staff Writer

Northeast Wisconsin’s economy is in great shape by nearly every measure.

The facts on employment, housing and consumer confidence are strong here as well as statewide and nationally, according to national economists who addressed groups of businesspeople throughout the region.

Unemployment stands at 3.6 percent in the Fox Cities, for example, compared to 4.1 percent last year and a national average of just under 5 percent.

Manny Vasquez of the Fox Cities Regional Partnership shared the good news during the Fox Cities Chamber’s annual economic outlook breakfast in February. Business leaders heard similar news at events hosted by St. Norbert College’s Donald J. Schneider School of Business and the Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce economic outlook breakfast.

Perceptions of businesspeople reflected the good news in a survey answered by more than 200 members of the Fox Cities Chamber. About 62 percent said the local economic vitality is currently “excellent or good,” the highest rating since 2007. Further:

• 53 percent said employment in 2015 was ahead of the previous year — the largest percentage since 2000. “It has taken us 16 years to get to this level,” Vasquez said.

• 63 percent said 2015 was their best year for gross profits since 2006. In the wholesale and retail sector, a whopping 81 percent said profits improved last year.

• 27 percent said they anticipate capital expansion in 2016 — a 7-point increase from the previous year. Even better, 40 percent of manufacturers who responded (about 20) said they plan to expand. 

• 70 percent said they believe sales will increase in 2016, the highest number since 2006.

Also at the Fox Cities event, JP Morgan Chase Chief Economist Anthony Chan said we face  a “25 percent chance” of recession. Turn it around, however, and a 75 percent chance the economy remains robust or at least steady shows “things are not as bad as what you hear in the presidential campaign,” Chan said.

St. Norbert College economic event

Plunging oil prices and the dramatically slower pace of production from China are among the factors that will begin trickling down to the state’s economy, Marc Schaffer, assistant professor of economics at St. Norbert College, told a group of businesspeople invited to a campus-hosted event.

“With 20 percent of the GDP in Northeast Wisconsin from manufacturing, a slowdown of China’s economy will hit manufacturing in particular,” Schaffer said.

In Oshkosh: Brian Beaulieu

Brian Beaulieu sees nothing but better days ahead for the regional economy.

The national speaker and economist with ITR Economics admits many consider this optimistic, given the stock market’s recent volatility.

But he also cautions the stock market is not the same thing as the economy, and many of the indicators with a lower profile point positive for the foreseeable future.

“The second half of 2016 is going to be better,” Beaulieu told those attending the Oshkosh Chamber of Commerce annual economic breakfast. “2017 will be better than 2016 and in 2018 we will hit the apex and begin the slide into the next down cycle.”

Beaulieu’s accuracy predicting year-to-year economic trends has been 97 percent or better for the past several years. His only miss this year: oil prices.

Those lower oil prices are part of what is unsettling the economy in the first half of 2016. Falling prices for oil have depressed mining and related energy industries, which — along with the strong dollar — have created a drag on the manufacturing economy.

However, those same factors are good for consumers, and consumers are still the most powerful driver of the U.S. economy.

Some of the positive signs Beaulieu sees:

• Incomes are projected to rise during the next two years

• Retail sales have grown by 4 percent, a “good rate of growth”

• New construction is trending up for both housing and commercial buildings.

“The Main Street trends are looking quite healthy,” Beaulieu said.