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Economic experts say Charlotte’s economic future looks good

A panel of economic development and business professionals said Monday that Charlotte’s economic future for the most part looks bright, but there are some reasons to be concerned, such as stagnant wages.

Mark Vitner, managing director and senior economist with Wells Fargo, was among the economic development and business experts who talked about Charlotte's bright economic outlook during “The Real Economy,” a panel discussion at the Mint Museum on Monday. Photo by Mark Abramson

Mark Vitner, managing director and senior economist with Wells Fargo, was among the economic development and business experts who talked about Charlotte’s bright economic outlook during “The Real Economy,” a panel discussion at the Mint Museum on Monday. Photo by Mark Abramson

The panelists shared their insights at an event titled “The Real Economy” at the Mint Museum in uptown Charlotte.  The discussion was presented by Wells Fargo and USA Today, and was moderated by WCNC news anchor Sonja Gantt.

The panelists were John Connaughton, a University of Charlotte economics professor and the director of the Babson Capital/UNCC Economic Forecast; Kati Hynes, vice president of economic development for the Charlotte Chamber of Commerce; Eric Schachner, CFO of CPI Security Systems; Michael Smith, president and CEO of Charlotte Center City Partners; and Erik Spanberg, senior staff writer for the Charlotte Business Journal.

The event was held to present data that Wells Fargo and USA Today collected about local and national economic conditions and to share the results of a nationwide survey that asked people how they think the economy is faring and where it is headed.

The survey indicated that 19 percent of North Carolinians believed local economic conditions would be better a year from now, compared with 28 percent for the nation.

Nationally, only 19 percent of the respondents believed there would be fewer jobs in the next five years, compared with 24 percent for the North Carolina respondents.

The event was kicked off by U.S. Sen. Thom Tillis, who spoke about the need for federal reform of tax regulations, less restrictive global trade and making the regulatory environment more friendly to businesses.

Mark Vitner, managing director and senior economist with Wells Fargo, presented  an economic overview, and said that one reason to be optimistic about the economy is the declining unemployment rate.

He pointed out that three years ago the unemployment rate in North Carolina was 9.6 percent and has since fallen to 5.9 percent.

“For the last five years, we’ve been adding jobs on a consistent basis, month after month,” Vitner said.

While it may sound good that 2.3 million more people nationwide are working now than when the country went into a recession in December 2007, he said, there are 23 million more people in the United States now.

Connaughton said stagnant job wages is another reason to be concerned about the economy.

Parts of the economy, including fields that require high-tech and high-skill jobs, are thriving, but the area has lost manufacturing jobs and those haven’t come back, he said.

The types of jobs and businesses the chamber has focused on bringing to Charlotte are in the manufacturing, health care and banking industries, Hynes said.

She said that manufacturing is becoming more high tech, resulting in technology replacing workers.

One reason to be optimistic about the future of the local economy is the region’s investment in  the infrastructure, Smith said. His organization, Charlotte Center City Partners, facilitates and promotes the economic, cultural and residential development of the area’s urban core.

He pointed to the under-construction Lynx Blue Line light rail extension that will connect uptown with UNCC as an example of improvements, and said that promotes transit-oriented development, including office buildings and apartments.

“We’ve got to continue to invest in our infrastructure,” Smith said.

Panelists said other reasons to be optimistic about the economic future here include Charlotte Douglas International Airport being a key hub for American Airlines, the area’s continued presence as a center for banking and the quality of the higher education.

“Our forecast for North Carolina is relatively upbeat,” Vitner said.

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