Looking back and forward

Conference examines global, national, regional economic outlooks

Bruce Spotleson

Bruce Spotleson

There is a season to everything, including in the business world, and soon your inbox will fill with invitations to previews and forecasts to help us see where the economy is headed.

At the Dec. 10 Southern Nevada Economic Outlook conference hosted by UNLV’s Center for Business and Economic Research, however, the focus was on where we already have been. Perhaps because history can predict the future, a couple hundred people showed up to hear presentations and grab the accompanying report.

Peppered with charts and graphs, the presentations examined the economy first on a national, then regional, then local basis.

“The global economy is likely to remain weak,” Stephen Brown, the center’s director, said in opening comments. He reminded the audience that it has been about 39 months since the economy bottomed out and said the recovery is slow because it is the result of a financial crisis.

Brown noted that the “natural” rate of unemployment nationally is 5.6 percent, a figure the United States hopes to return to by 2017. He observed that the national housing market continues to tighten, allowing values to grow.

“We’re seeing a real recovery in the housing sector,” Brown said, projecting that interest rates will remain low.

Guest presenter Lee McPheeters, of Arizona State University, noted that the West may finally be getting back on its feet, “but it’s not recovered yet.” He noted that Nevada, which had the fastest rate of growth in the United States from 1980 to 2005, lost 14 percent of its jobs between 2007 and 2010.

Esmael Adibi, of Chapman University, talked about California’s economy, for which there are mixed signals.

“The numbers look good, but we still have fundamental problems in California,” he said.

He said California’s housing challenges are a result of oversupply. Some 1.4 million new homes were built in the state from 2000 to 2010, but only about 27,000 new jobs were added in the nongovernment sector during that period.

As for the local economy, Brown said the recovery will continue sluggishly and that our population is about to grow again.

“Affordable housing will be a big draw in the future,” he said.

Meanwhile, visitor volume is picking up in Las Vegas, although less so in the rest of Clark County and Nevada.

“The Las Vegas tourist industry has figured some things out,” Brown said, apparent in an increase in room-nights occupied. “Casinos are doing a good job of diversifying the business and keeping spending up.

“We’re still a long way from where we were in 2007.”

The numbers certainly back him up. Fortunately, this season is as much about looking ahead as looking back.