Economic forecasts give businesses news they can use

With interest rates going up for the first time in years, what should small-business owners expect for demand for their products or services? How will it affect real estate sales? Does the state’s largest insurance company need to change its investment portfolio? How will the new economic climate affect funds for the state’s public-private research organizations?

For 35 years, South Carolina business executives and owners have turned to the Darla Moore School of Business research economists and the Economic Outlook Conference for answers to questions just like this to help them plan and make crucial decisions.

“Our goal is to provide actionable information to help inform business strategies,” says University of South Carolina research economist Joseph Von Nessen. “We look at the data and help explain how these things impact local industries.”

Karen Blackmon, business development manager for Russell & Jeffcoat Real Estate Inc., has been attending the Economic Outlook Conference since 2003.

“There is always good information there and it helps you see a vision of what’s going on in the state,” says Blackmon, who also uses the conference as an opportunity to network with business executives from around the state. “It’s very objective, very academic and analytical. You don’t have to worry about their information.”

Some companies consider the conference not just an essential part of their own corporate planning, but also important for state leaders.

“USC’s annual Economic Outlook Conference is a great thought-leadership platform," says David Pankau, president and CEO of BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina. "The gathering does an excellent job of bringing talent, context and analysis to an important discussion for business leaders, legislators, educators and others interested in maximizing future opportunities for the region. BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina is especially pleased to sponsor this annual event not only because we take our responsibility seriously as a good corporate citizen, but because we also view our organization as a key stakeholder in the state’s continued economic development and success.”

This year’s forecast delves into how the recent flooding in South Carolina will affect the economy – information that businesses cannot find elsewhere.

“There is a serious lack of actionable information for businesses on the local level,” Von Nessen says. “Our research is informed not only by our annual forecast, but also by our impact studies and customized research projects that let us get into the weeds of the state’s economy and informs our annual forecast.”

As to the flood, which was triggered by 1,000-year levels of rainfall, Von Nessen and research director Doug Woodward say their predictions are based in part on information about how the state recovered from Hurricane Hugo in 1989.

The October rains and flooding caused property and infrastructure damage and a four- to six-week period of major disruptions to business activity, primarily within the Midlands, but also in Charleston, Myrtle Beach and the Pee Dee region. These same regions, however, likely will benefit in 2016 through additional spending activity arising from rebuilding efforts.

“We know from our analysis of Hurricane Hugo that a natural disaster like the historic 2015 rainfall and flooding has the potential to act as a modest stimulus for construction and retail trade during the rebuilding phase, which will continue throughout 2016,” Woodward says. “However, this short-term boost will not compensate for the losses incurred by citizens and businesses who were not fully insured or given other forms of disaster relief to pay for their damage.”

If you are going

The 35th Annual Economic Outlook Conference, the state’s premier business event, starts at noon Thursday (Dec. 17) in the W.W. Hootie Johnson Performance Hall at the Darla Moore School of Business. The event features a keynote address from Martin Ford, whose book, “Rise of the Robots: Technology and the Threat of a Jobless Future,” recently was named the Financial Times and McKinsey best business book of the year. 

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