2015 is Looking to be a Good Year as Projected in Economic Briefing

The power of knowing; when we are aware of what is happening around us we are able to use the knowledge that we obtain as a tool to better our communities and ourselves.

The Greater La Porte Chamber of Commerce, The Michigan City Chamber of Commerce, and Purdue University North Central recognized this notion and put bi-annual Economic Briefing Sessions together that have been taking place at PNC for about 13 years. On a cool April morning the PNC College of Business and the Center for Economic Development and Research (CEDaR) presented the current trends in La Porte County’s economy.

“We wanted a connection between the community and the university, especially the business school,” Mike Seitz, President of the La Porte Chamber said. “Looking at the turnout today we have a lot of business leaders here and they will be able to pick up the trends and implement them in their businesses.”

The morning began with breakfast. Community and business leaders gathered in the LSF Building and networked while fueling up for the day. Dr. Cynthia Roberts, Dean of the College of Businesses for PNC, gave the welcome and set the briefing in motion.

“Twice a year we do this and we ask our economist to give us a snapshot of what is going on in the economy,” Dr. Roberts said. “Each meeting we have a different guest speaker in to talk about a different area of the economy. This gives everyone an idea of where we’re headed and what we need to be aware of.”

“The economy is growing and it’s continuing to grow,” Dr. Derek Bjonback Associate Professor of Economics at PNC said. “We’ve had enough positive news from the labor market these past few years that consumers are beginning to feel good about themselves.”

Dr. Bjonback showed all in attendance the reasoning behind his statement in great detail using a PowerPoint presentation that showed statistics, flow charts, and other numbers that he and others came to after copious amounts of research. He stated that employment has gone up steadily since 2009. La Porte County’s numbers are higher than they were in 2008, and this means that the unemployment rate has steadily gone down.

“We recovered all of our employment around May 2014. It has been almost seven years since we were at this level in 2008,” Dr. Bjonbeck said. “Economists are watching this closely.”

Recent employment trends are looking up in La Porte County thanks to the increase of tourism. This is due to the many special events that are hosted in La Porte County that draw that visitors in to its cities and towns. The Average Annual Gross Domestic Product is expected to rise from 2.4% in 2014 to 2.7% in 2015 and inflation rates as well as interest rates are expected to stay low this year. The unemployment rate fell in late 2014 to 5.7% and it’s forecasted to fall to 5.6%.

His conclusion was that the economy is on the rise.

“In terms of the future things are looking quite bright,” Dr. Bjonback said. ”We have had growth since 2009. It hasn’t been spectacular… but this year is looking to be a good year.”

The guest speaker for the morning was Mary Foell, Extension Educator of Economic and Community Development and 4-H Youth Development at Purdue Extension La Porte County. She spoke of the changing trends in the agricultural sector of our economy and she also had good news.

“During a 12 year period beginning in 2001 farm earnings in La Porte County have tripled,” Foell said, gesturing to the slides that backed up her statement. “Agriculture is a key component for economic growth.”

Foell spoke of the estimated crop costs as of January 2015, stating that the average amount per acre of market value variable costs and revenue per acre concluded that corn was the least cost effective and rotational beans were the most cost effective. This was determined using variable costs such as seed, pesticides, interest, hauling, insurance, etc.

Foell also stated that every dollar of the Gross Domestic Product that comes from agriculture generates an additional $0.68 in economic activity.

Moving from crops to animals, Foell expressed how important these domesticated creatures were to our economy. The estimated impact of animal agriculture produces $628 million in direct sales, $1.193 billion in total economic impact, $188 million in personal impact, and it created over 5,900 jobs in Northwest Indiana.

“Animal agriculture has a significant impact on Northwest Indiana,” Foell said. “We are continuing to look at agriculture as a main contributor for economic sustainability here and around the globe.”

Foell concluded her part of the presentation with current agricultural trends. She stated that there will be:

  • a shifting in farm structure as assets are transferred to younger generations
  • an acceleration in farm technology with soil mapping, satellite imagery, and weather data points
  • biotechnology will continue to play an important role in the states and abroad
  • agriculture production may become more specialized
  • resource scarcity is prominent in different parts of the country with water or nutrient problems
  • the commodity environment will continue to change
  • meat consumption will shift with products from China expected to be more prominent
  • the public will continue to stay aware of the treatment of livestock
  • government policies are currently in flux
  • the influence of environmentalism is growing

Finally, Anthony Sidone, Continuing Lecturer of Economics for PNC took the floor. His topic of discussion was the labor force for La Porte County.

Sidone showed everyone that more people are being hired in La Porte County, though an interesting thing was that more people were hired than there were job postings in certain areas. This means that not all people look to job postings to get jobs. They go by other means like word of mouth.

“We can’t say that job postings are the only indicator of the job demand because we see that the numbers don’t show that,” Sidone said.

He also showed which companies in the area were hiring with Roehl Transportation, Inc., C.R. England, Inc. CRST International, Inc., and Boyd Gaming Corporation being the top four. The industries with the most job openings were transportation, retail, and nursing. But the number of openings was way higher than the number of hires per month.

“There are jobs available and companies are looking,” Sidone said. “Yet the unemployment rates in certain cities are high. How do we close that gap? There are a lot of people looking for jobs and they don’t think there are jobs out there. There are plenty of jobs here.”

His conclusion was that if people were willing to get the schooling and training then the numbers would even out, therefore boosting the economy.