Joco Opinion

Bob Sigman: Some better days ahead for the county’s economy

Johnson County’s economy is expected to feed this year on the nation’s continued recovery from the Great Recession.

It is too early to assess the county’s performance in the first quarter of 2015. But based on the upward trend of several economic indicators in 2014, growth is expected to continue this year, explained Doug Davidson, president of the County Economic Research Institute, or CERI.

The recent drop in the price of gasoline adds a highly visible, positive push. Davidson said it could create a significant amount of discretionary spending options, including retail sales, that stand to spread economic activity across the board.

“The lower prices would be especially helpful for lower income workers,” Davidson said, adding that the savings could allow people to move onto firmer financial footing.

Davidson, whose organization tracks the county’s business sector, said momentum has been building in recent months. More jobs have been created over the last three years. Unemployment is looking more favorable as the Great Recession gives way to a more productive economy.

Several other sectors that help drive the economy are trending upward, among them retail sales, residential building permits and home values. Yet parts of the construction industry have yet to recover from the prolonged economic downturn that followed the home mortgage collapse.

Despite the construction slide, both corporate executives and consumers have rising confidence in the county’s economy, for the short and longer terms.

These economic factors, of course, are influenced by what is happening in the country as a whole. If forecasts around the first of the year pan out, Johnson County will benefit from a more robust national economy.

Star business editor Keith Chrostowski was among many writers who examined key indicators that could have an impact here in 2015.

On the optimistic side, the increase in job creation in 2014 was one of the most encouraging developments. It was the fifth consecutive year of an uptick in employment. A rising stock market helped boost our 401(k) accounts.

There are concerns. Credit is tight. The Federal Reserve might raise interest rates prematurely. And, there is no assurance that the nation is fully recovered from the recession.

We have to remember, too, that we are an integral part of a highly competitive, and at times volatile, global economy. An international financial crisis, or more terror attacks here or around the world, could blow all predictions sky high.

As Davidson, CERI president, observed:

“We will have to keep our fingers crossed.”

Freelance columnist Bob Sigman, a former member of The Star’s Editorial Board, writes monthly.