Strength of Pierce County economy will continue

“At right is Pierce County Executive-Elect John Ladenburg, who spoke at the Regional Economic Development Update, a separate panel discussion held after the Horizons 2001 presentation. (Photo by Bonnie West) The economic forecast for Pierce County is excellent according to every speaker in attendance at the Horizons 2001-and the beat goes on… presentation held at the Sheraton Inn yesterday morning.A record number of attendees, nearly 500, listened intently as keynote speaker Paul Sommers, Ph.D., senior research fellow at the Evans School of Public Affairs, University of Washington, began the 13th Annual Economic Forecast with: We’re in the longest expansion of U.S. economy since the Civil War–this is as good as it gets.Sommers said the Northwest has done very well, in fact grown steadily, with the net earnings for Washington residents ranking among the highest in the country.He pointed out that Boeing still pushes the economy and that the year ahead should see more hiring there.Boeing has tended to bounce back with any economic downside, he assured the audience.On a national level, Sommers said that the year ahead will have one of two things: A. A soft landing. Or B. A recession, and that two things that national economic advisors will be looking at are the investment patterns on Wall Street and energy price jitters.Considering the international trade, Sommers said that overall, Washington has been dependent on the health of the Asian sector. The tiger is not roaring yet, he cautioned, we’re not seeing them strong yet.He spoke briefly of the overall economic health of Washington State, saying that with the eastern parts dependence on agriculture, the farmers, in particular the apple farmers, are trying to find a path back to profitability.The technology industry Had a huge boom of investment in dot coms but have seen shrinkage with closings and some absorbed by other dot coms.With that industry in mind he said, They’ll see slower growth in 2001, but faster in the next part of the decade.The focus of growth, he believes, will be with software-focused businesses like Microsoft and Adobe, etc., which are booming. He noted that Microsoft continues to hire despite the anti-trust case. He said the software industry rate of growth was 15 to 18 percent, compared to numbers like 1998’s small 8 percent growth, but he pointed out that the bulk of that industry is in King county.He added that with more than 100 small to medium technology companies in this county many tech’s have solid business plans and will continue to grow.He called their numbers the bright spot in the economy right now, and said that as King County gets pricier with their business rents and housing rates, Pierce County will be a viable place for techs to take root and expand.His final and very positive comment was We will do well with the economy here compared to the national economy overall.The Pierce County Economic Index 2000 Presentation, prepared and next delivered by Dr. Doug Goodman, Ph.D., and Dr. Bruce Mann, Ph.D., of the Department of Economics with the University of Puget Sound, was just as solid with good economic news.Dr. Mann said that there had been 41 consecutive quarters of growth–the strongest on record with 3.2 percent growth annually over 10 years, in the Pierce County Economic Index from 1990 to 2000, with 1997 marked as the best year for growth, 1999 second, and 2000 holding its own by increasing growth with 4 percent.2001, Dr. Goodman predicts, will slow only a small amount, by 3.7 percent in the first half, with a predicted increase of 3.9 percent in the second. He expects the moderate decline in the first part of the year to be attributable to the slower national economics, But inflation will be a minor concern, and he doesn’t anticipate a recession.Personal income in Pierce County has increased since 1997, and although we expect it to slow slightly, we still exceed the national rate, Dr. Goodman added.They predict retail sales will be up by 6 1/4 percent in 2001.Housing construction, which Dr. Mann said has performed nicely, will not be as hectic as it has been in the last two years, and he added that the slowdown came more quickly than expected. More good news with construction though, We expect 2001 permits for housing and commercial construction to bring big growth equal to what’s been seen in the last 5 to 10 years totally! Dr. Goodman predicts. And finally, Dr. Mann noted that the Port of Tacoma continues to be important to the county, with container movement expected to be up 7 1/2 percent over 1999. He said that the county could expect continued growth from Asia and Europe, and that We will begin to see benefits with normalized trade agreements with China.After the breakfast presentations the audience was invited to attend three separate panel discussions on Downtown Redevelopment, Technology, and a Regional Economic Development Update.Pierce County’s Executive-Elect John Ladenburg headed the Regional Economic Development Update panel with William Andrews, of Battelle Institute; and Julie Collins of the Port of Tacoma.The critical topic at the update was transportation, which may well decide Pierce County’s future if it’s not addressed properly.Executive-Elect Ladenburg said that All of the jurisdictions in the county have different transportation plans, but they need to have meetings so their plans combine. King County didn’t get big without transportation, he added, and we are in the same place now. We need to solve the transportation problem and we all need to be a part of the process–to take the blinders off…the cities and towns are not in competition with each other. Critical corridors like SR 167, East D Street Overpass, and Cross Base Highway need to be addressed immediately to avoid traffic gridlocks and to make I-5 accessible from a number of Pierce County locations.Let’s get together and meld plans together to build a quality of life that will be the envy of the Northwest, Ladenburg said. It can all be done. “