Forecasters say economy is primed for expansion in 2004

In addition to ham and eggs, those in attendance at Wednesday morning’s16th annual Horizons Economic Forecast Event at the Tacoma Sheraton convention center were served up predictions of a strong economy.

In keeping with the theme of this year’s gathering – get your motor running – the three economists who spoke were delivered to the stage on the backs of Harley-Davidson motorcycles, as the Steppenwolf classic “Born to Be Wild” played over the loudspeakers.

University of Puget Sound economic professors Bruce Mann and Doug Goodman presented the good news about a revved up local economy.

Among the pair’s observations and predictions:

– “The Pierce County economy will outperform other regional economies,” Mann said. Pierce County will see a 2.5 percent growth rate through the first half of 2004, rising to 3.5 percent for the second half.

– The first half of next year will see job growth of 1.7 percent, accelerating to 2.8 percent in the second half.

– This year will end with umem-ployment at 7.8 percent. The rate will fall 1 percent in 2004.

– Retail sales in Pierce County will rise nearly 5 percent next year.

– Per-capita income growth will rise 1.9 percent in 2004, to $28,600.

– Container traffic at the Port of Tacoma, which is experiencing a record-breaking year, will show a 2.4 percent gain next year.

– Look for continued urban-center growth in Lakewood, University Place, Puyallup, Fife Sumner and East Pierce County.

– Expansion in housing, education, regional medical facilities and the Port of Tacoma will continue.

Despite the announcement earlier in the day that Everett would take part in the final assembly of Boeing’s 7E7, Mann had this to say: “The regional economy is weaker than expected, especially the aerospace industry.”

Still, the overall news was of an improving and expanding local economy.
“A good 2003 will become a better 2004,” Goodman said.

That assessment of the local economy mirrored the national recovery that Robert McGuckin, director of economic research at The Conference Board, spoke of earlier in the day.

“Everything’s moving in the economy. If we look at the long term outlook, it’s excellent,” he said, calling next year the best in two decades.

Among his observations and predictions:

– The growth of the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) in 2004-2005 will equal the 2003 rate of 4.3 percent.

– Interest rates will rise. “The Fed is going to have to raise interest rates,” McGuckin said, “especially after the election.”

– Continuing globalization will increase world trade, which could in turn see more disputes between nations. “We’re all better off if we cooperate and work together,” he said. Other important issues to deal with include an expanding U.S. trade deficit and a “rising tide that doesn’t lift all boats.”

– The American economy is not the only one that is doing better, McGuckin said, taking particular note of the nations of Japan, Korea and China. “Asia is turning into a powerhouse.”