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Economy to grow, gridlock to continue, speakers say

By Jim Mackinnon
Beacon Journal business writer

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As the United States and world continue a tepid recovery in the aftermath of the Great Recession, the Akron area is outperforming many other places, a keynote speaker said at the Greater Akron Chamber’s annual economic outlook breakfast.

“Akron is an example of an economy working well. Akron actually has been able to adjust,” said Eric J. Freedman, chief investment officer and managing director of Raleigh, N.C.-based CAPTRUST Financial Advisors.

Freedman and John C. Green, director of the Bliss Institute of Applied Politics at the University of Akron, were the keynote speakers Friday morning at the Hilton Akron/Fairlawn. They spoke to about 200 people.

“Akron is outperforming the nation in many areas,” Freedman said. “That speaks to the diversity of employment as well as the labor force.”

He likened the economy to a baton relay race, where the government grabbed the baton from a stalled private sector during the recession of 2007-09 and is now trying to pass it back.

The economy will likely continue to grow slowly, he said.

“Things are good. Things are positive,” he said.

People should expect interest rates to rise as central banks ease off on keeping rates low, which has implications for investors, Freedman said. In addition, people need to pay attention to demographics and to rising life expectancy. There was someone born this year who will live 130 to 140 years, he said.

“By the time you come out of this meeting, your life expectancy will have gone up 15 minutes,” he said.

Green, who addressed government and public policy issues in his talk, said he liked Freedman’s imagery of a government and private sector relay race.

“The runner carrying the baton is busy fumbling it,” Green quipped. “It’s not going to be an easy exchange.”

There is a lot of uncertainty revolving around ongoing gridlock, policy innovations that include the Affordable Care Act, and large amounts of public debt, Green said.

“You don’t have gridlock unless a lot of people participate in it,” he said. He suspects the high level of uncertainty will continue the next several years and into the next presidential election.

“Elections have not been able to resolve the difficult conflicts,” Green said. “When push comes to shove, democracies resolve these issues at the ballot box. But this hasn’t happened.”

States, including Ohio, are doing a much better job of avoiding gridlock and managing such things as debt, Green said.

Speakers also addressed the impending Lockheed Martin plant shutdown and potential loss of 500 jobs in Akron.

“This week has been a particularly difficult week,” said Dan Colantone, head of the Greater Akron Chamber. “We’ll all go to work to support those [Lockheed Martin] families.”

Akron has retained a nice manufacturing base, Freedman said.

While the impending job losses at Lockheed Martin are unfortunate, “the demand for their skill set is very, very high in this country,” he said.

Jim Mackinnon can be reached at 330-996-3544 or jmackinnon@thebeaconjournal.com


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