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Published: Tuesday, 4/10/2012

Area economy gaining slowly, forum is told

BY TYREL LINKHORN
BLADE BUSINESS WRITER
Economic futurist Jeff Thredgold says that despite 11 straight quarters of gains, overall expansion is the weakest since the 1940s. Economic futurist Jeff Thredgold says that despite 11 straight quarters of gains, overall expansion is the weakest since the 1940s.
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Though the economic outlook is far less grim than it's been in recent years, the slate of speakers at Bowling Green State University's annual State of the Region Conference agree that the area's recovery is likely to remain slow in the future.

Michael C. Carroll, associate professor of economics and director of BGSU's Center for Regional Development, host for the event, said a strong rebound in the stock market, strengthening in the manufacturing and automotive sectors, and declining layoffs show an improving picture throughout Ohio.

That's the good news. The bad news is that at the current rate, it may take 15 years to replace the more than 30,000 jobs lost from the Toledo metro area from 2007 to 2009. He's hopeful improving conditions could speed that up.

"We have made the turn. We are on the expand again," Mr. Carroll said after the event Monday. "It'll be slow if we continue on the current growth rates, but we have made the turn."

Continued unemployment, a still-battered housing market, and concerns over federal debt levels are expected to hold growth in the United States economy to about 2.4 percent this year, economic futurist Jeff Thredgold told the audience at the Hilton Garden Inn at Levis Commons in Perrysburg.

Although there have been 11 consecutive quarters of positive growth, Mr. Thredgold said the expansion has been the weakest of any time since the 1940s, and only 40 percent of the jobs that were lost in the recession have been replaced.

The falling national unemployment rate is a bit of a distortion, Mr. Thredgold said. Four years ago, the labor force participation rate was 66 percent. Now it stands at 63.8 percent.

"If we had the same number of people in the labor force, at work or potentially looking for work today we had four years ago, the [unemployment] rate would not be 8.2 percent, it would be in excess of 11 percent," Mr. Thredgold said.

More than 300 business leaders, elected officials, and economic ­development officers attended the conference.

In addition to Mr. Carroll and Mr. Thredgold, the conference featured presentations on business site selection from Jonathan Gemmen, a location consultant with Austin Consulting in Cleveland, and Adam Bruns, managing editor of Site Selection magazine.

After his presentation, Mr. Gemmen said the Toledo area's strongest asset is its transportation connections — four railroads, two major interstate highways, and a port.

Transportation and labor force are two of the factors companies care about the most when they are making a site selection, he said.

"We have a manufacturing environment here and a history of manufacturing, so it's not that big of a challenge. The greater issue is wage expectations," Mr. Gemmen said.

"Fortunately, or unfortunately, we live in a global economy now. There are some wage challenges," he said. "Some of the manufacturing wages over the last 50 years, adjusted for inflation, are essentially not sustainable."

Contact Tyrel Linkhorn at: tlinkhorn@theblade.com or 419-724-6134.



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