With The Columbian’s 2016 Economic Forecast Breakfast just around the year-end corner, I decided to look at forecasts from past years to see how much times have changed in our local business world. My review of essays written by participants from years past became a walk down the memory lane of hard times.
Even at an event oriented toward civic optimism, breakfast panelists in those dark years of our economic downturn couldn’t conceal their gloom.
In 2009, Scott Bailey, the Employment Security Department’s well-informed regional economist, forecast major job losses in manufacturing and construction. A years later Bart Phillips, then president of the Columbia River Economic Development Council, wrote an article headlined “Clark County business leaders foresee disturbing trends.”
And so it went for a couple more years: “Housing market to remain stagnant,” predicted real estate broker Dick Riley in 2011. Next up, in 2012: “Business expansion likely to stay slow,” from commercial broker Eric Fuller. Finally, the clouds started to lift with essays about an improved economy in 2013, job growth in 2014, and, this year from Scott Bailey: “More positives in 2015.”
Which brings us to the 2016 breakfast, set for Thursday, Jan. 21, at the Hilton Vancouver Washington. Now business optimism is real, not forced. Clark County’s job growth exceeds that of the state and the Portland region. Unemployment continues to drop, now resting at an estimated 5.6 percent. Existing businesses are expanding and new ones — including Banfield Pet Hospitals in 2016 — are arriving. By some measures, home sales have returned to pre-recession levels. Only stagnant wages for many middle-income workers remain as a dark cloud.