The Elkins-Randolph County Chamber of Commerce annual dinner and awards ceremony will present an all-new and interesting format this year and promises to be an exciting and fun-filled evening.
The gala affair will be at the American Mountain Theater on April 8. A social hour will get the evening under way at 6 p.m., featuring heavy hors d’oeuvres and beverages. Guest speaker Bray Cary of West Virginia Media and The State Journal will deliver the keynote address at 7 p.m. The awards presentation will follow Cary’s address and the event will conclude with a mini-performance by the AMT cast.
If you have not received an invitation with an RSVP card but wish to attend, please call the chamber office at 636-2717 as soon as possible. All tickets must be purchased in advance; no tickets will be available at the door. Tickets are $25 for chamber members and $35 for non-members.
All chamber members are encouraged to attend and bring a guest. This promises to be an exciting evening for chamber members and non-members alike presenting an excellent opportunity for non-members to gain an understanding of what chamber membership has to offer.
For the past three years, I’ve had the privilege of attending the annual Morgantown Economic Outlook Conference sponsored by the West Virginia University Bureau of Business and Economic Research Department. It’s a great opportunity to hear some of the university’s economic experts and other nationally renowned economists interpret the nation and state’s current economic situation and predict what they expect to happen in the near future and over the next five years. For some inexcusable reason, I missed this year’s conference.
Since I can’t bring you the news that came out of the conference first hand, I’d like to paraphrase what Pam Kasey wrote in the March 21 issue of The State Journal. I guess second-hand information is better than nothing — if it’s reliable, and I believe what’s written in the Journal to be about as reliable as you can get.
Global Insight, a leader in economic and financial analysis, forecasting and market intelligence for more than 40 years, is always a major player at the conference. This year’s Global Insight speaker was Nigel Gault who said that the U.S. is near or possibly in recession for three reasons. First, he said, is the fact that unemployment rose from 4.4 percent to 5 percent in 2007. He said that we’ve never experienced an increase in the unemployment rate of that size without the economy either being in a recession or about to enter one.
Secondly, he noted that private employment has been declining for three months in a row, and each decline is bigger that the previous one. He said that this is the sort of move that only occurs at a time of recession.
The final indicator is consumer sentiment, now at 70 percent — a level historically associated only with recession. Gault went on to point out the reasons why consumers are so negative. Employment is falling, real wages are falling because prices are rising faster than wages, housing values are down, the stock market has fallen and credit conditions are tightening.
Looking ahead, Gault sees the economy getting worse before it gets better. He said that consumers have tapped out their housing wealth to support spending, and with unemployment up, continuing foreclosures will likely be driven not only by the lending crisis but by job losses as well.
Bringing the assessment closer to home, West Virginia University Economist Dr. George Hammond noted that West Virginia’s job growth has slowed and is in danger of disappearing altogether. He noted that coal production has stabilized at 150 million to 155 million tons per year. Residential construction is experiencing a downturn, most of which is in the Eastern Panhandle. (This is, of course, where the state economy experienced the greatest housing boom and consequently, as predicted, is taking the greatest hit now.)
Hammond summed the economy up by saying that West Virginia’s economy is growing, but just barely. Risks for recession are as high as we’ve seen since the last one. “Indeed,” he said, “if the U.S. economy is in recession at the moment, West Virginia will likely follow suit over the next several quarters.”
Now, bringing you that news from the economic conference, let me say that either a lot of people don’t know that we’re on the brink of financially hard times or they just don’t care.
I was at the Robinson Town Center Mall last weekend, just off I-79 and a few miles south of the Pittsburgh airport, and there was no indication of a threatened economy there. It wasn’t quite as crowded as it was on Black Friday last year, but it wasn’t far from it. Perhaps the economic experts don’t visit the shopping malls.