Rose-colored forecast

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

Believe it or not, Columbus just wrapped up a reasonably good year, economically speaking. It's 2009 that won't be as rosy - although it could be worse.

That's according to this year's Columbus Chamber BlueChip Economic Forecast. It's conducted by Bill LaFayette, the Chamber's vice president of economic analysis, and issued at the start of each year. In December he gave a preview to business representatives and industry leaders.

The forecast is an average of local predictions from LaFayette and Huntington National Bank, Red Capital Group and Commerce National Bank representatives. The panel's prediction is used across and outside the city to plan for the upcoming year, but there's plenty the average consumer can get from it, too.

Like that the most "recession-resistant" fields are education and health services, which locally are expected to increase by 2.4 percent, or 2,100 jobs, in 2009, LaFayette said.

Jobs in transportation and utilities should be up a bit, too, but most other sectors are facing a not-too-sharp decline.

The panel's predictions for other specific fields in the metropolitan area: professional and business services, up 0.5 percent, or 700 jobs; private education, up 2.4 percent, or 2,700 jobs; transportation and utilities, up 1.6 percent, or 800 jobs; financial institutions, down 0.9 percent, or 700 jobs; retail, down 2.4 percent, or 2,100 jobs; government, down 1 percent, or 1,500 jobs.

The local economy as a whole will likely shed 3,100 jobs, or .3 percent, in 2009. It will be the first decline since 2002.

This year will be a challenging one, LaFayette said, "but it could be worse." The state and national economies, for instance, are again predicted to fare worse than Columbus this year.

"For a change, Ohio is not really that much worse off than the U.S. as a whole," he said in regard to 2008 figures. "Good news. Unfortunately, though, that's not because Ohio has improved; it's because everybody else has gotten worse."

The national economy will likely start to recover this summer, making it twice as long as the average depression, which historically has been 10 months.

And a Wall Street Journal poll of more than 50 economists predicts the unemployment rate in December 2009 will be 8.1 percent. The Columbus Chamber's forecast puts central Ohio's rate at 6.4 percent, well below the national average.

"I don't know how bad things will get, but we'll likely be seeing daylight by this time next year," LaFayette said.