Tacoma celebrates World Trade Center Association Day

Editor’s Note: Dana Greenlee’s technology column, which normally appears in this space every Friday, has been bumped for World Trade Center Association Day coverage. Besides, Dana asked for the week off, so it all worked out for the best.

Touting the positive effects of globalization and America’s preeminent position in the world, FedEx chief economist Dr. Gene Huang predicted the U.S. economy would continue to rebound.

Huang, who is uniquely qualified to make such a pronouncement by virtue of being Business Week magazine’s “Most Accurate Forecaster of 2002,” was the keynote speaker at Thursday’s second annual World Trade Center Association Day luncheon.

During the economic recession that followed the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks, Huang was convinced the U.S. economy would progress.

“The facts are that the overall U.S. economy has been expanding for the last six consecutive quarters. Most economic forecasters believe the recession ended in late 2001,” Huang told those assembled at the luncheon held at the headquarters of the Tacoma Club, located on the 16th floor of the Wells Fargo Building.

“We’re in the third year after the collapse of the U.S. stock market and the dot-com bubble,” said Huang, who has a master’s degree from Yale University, a Ph.D. from the University of Pennsylvania and a law degree from Fudan University in Shanghai. “We are at the end of the market adjustment phase.”

According to Huang, this is part of a broad economic pattern that has been evident since the industrial revolution: extraordinary growth, economic collapse and rebound.

This same cycle can be seen in the introduction of the internal combustion engine in the late 19th century, radio in the early 1920s, pharmaceuticals in the early 1980s and now in the information technology revolution, Huang pointed out.

The U.S. economy is in a post-Iraq war recovery mode, Huang said, adding he thinks it will gradually accelerate and gain momentum.

That’s good news for the nation’s economy in general, which should help the Puget Sound’s technology sector.

“But, we’re going to have to increase the Asian appetite and demand for other U.S. products, as well,” Huang said. “Like Washington apples, electronic and high-tech equipment like scanners from Intermec, pharmaceuticals and medical equipment from Philips Medical Systems and Siemens, and other Seattle/Tacoma companies.”

Huang gazed into his crystal ball – actually a novelty talking “8-Ball” he used as a comedic prop during his presentation – to make some predictions about the future:

– Oil prices will continue to go down.

– Consumer debt will decline.

– Unemployment will remain steady, and self-employment will increase.

– Interest rates will remain low globally.

– Research and development will continue at a blistering pace, with the U.S. leading the way.

– Traditional jobs such as manufacturing, mining and farming will evolve into consulting and service-related fields.

– Population growth – a key indicator of economic health – will altar the economic balance of power in the world. Controlled immigration will continue fueling the expansion of the U.S. economy.

While Huang’s predictions were mostly positive, he had some cautionary words.

“Our trade deficit is close to the critical point. We continue to import more than we export,” Huang said. “And while this is a good thing for U.S. consumers because it gives us an unending smorgasbord of affordable goods, the U.S. is borrowing from its capital markets to pay for those goods at a rate of $1.4 billion a day or $500 billion a year.”

Still, Huang remains an unabashed patriot, confident in America and the American dream.

“The world is watching the U.S. economy closely,” Huang said. “The interest on the direction of the U.S. economy is unparalleled. And this situation is quite logical, as the U.S. is the growth engine for the world, and will continue to be far into the future.”

Born in Xi’an, China’s first capital, and educated in Shanghai, Huang emigrated 20 years ago to this country and is now a naturalized American citizen.

“I’m very proud of my heritage, but I love being an American,” said Huang, who escaped unscathed along with his wife and daughter from the World Trade Center in New York when the Twin Towers were struck by hijacked jetliners.

“So, I feel like I’ve earned the right to speak out and share my perspective,” he said. “War and death is a hideous price to pay for a political or religious agenda.”

With the goal of promoting global peace and stability through international trade, World Trade Center Association Day was established last year to recognize the importance of the 300-plus World Trade Centers in more than 100 nations around the world.

Most World Trade Centers celebrated June 11, said Andreas Udbye, World Trade Center Tacoma executive director, noting June 12 worked best for the city.

During the luncheon, the World Trade Center Tacoma recognized George Russell of the Tacoma-based George Russell Co., which provides investment products and services, as this year’s nominee for the Book of Honor published by the World Trade Center Association.

Russell was lauded for his efforts to facilitate and explore investment opportunities in developing countries.

Accepting the award on Russell’s behalf was company consultant Joan Soba.

Also recognized were the first place award winners of the Pierce County High School art and writing event commemorating this year’s celebration of World Trade Center Association Day.

Nissana Nov of Foss High School, who won in the art category, and Allison Anderson of Covenant High School, who won the essay portion of the contest, were presented with their first place certificates by Udbye.