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Economic outlook promising for Charlotte, researcher says

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  • UNCC economist predicts strong year

    This year looks like a strong recovery year for North Carolina, UNC Charlotte economist John Connaughton said Wednesday in releasing his quarterly forecast for the state.

    He said the state’s economic output should rise by 3 percent over 2013, marking the first sustained period of uninterrupted growth since the recession.

    He said rising home prices, stable consumer confidence figures and a falling federal budget deficit should set the table for stronger economic activity in the state. He expects the state to gain 59,200 net jobs.

    Connaughton said 2014 “could represent a breakout year for the North Carolina economy.”



The Charlotte area’s long-term economic prospects look as bright as those of Austin, Texas, and other fast-rising cities, but its unemployment rate will continue to lag the national average in the near term.

Those were among the conclusions an economist from Washington, D.C., reached after studying data on Mecklenburg County and forecasting its economic health through 2040.

Sharing his findings Wednesday with the Charlotte Economics Club, Parker Bedsole of Regional Economic Models Inc. said Mecklenburg appears poised for years of solid growth.

During a lunch at the City Club uptown, he said the county’s economic growth rate outpaced the nation’s before the recession. Its recession-induced drop-off was steeper than the nation’s overall slowdown, but Mecklenburg has also been recovering more strongly during the recovery.

The local economy has grown increasingly diverse, he said, with employment sectors such as Internet publishing, securities and even the performing arts showing strong growth.

Population growth will continue to outstrip the nation’s growth, he added, with Mecklenburg’s population reaching just over 1.3 million by 2040.

Bedsole said he counts Charlotte among economically dynamic “top tier” cities such as Austin, Nashville and Raleigh.

“Charlotte is a growth region,” he said. “It has substantially outpaced the national economy in many metrics.”

The only drawback he found in his study of Charlotte, he added, lies in its unemployment rates. The county’s nonseasonally adjusted November unemployment rate was 7.1 percent. The national rate was 6.6 percent.

Bedsole said the local unemployment rate will stay higher than the nation’s for at least the next few years.

“It was the one kind of glaring negative of the region that I could find,” he said.

Local job-seekers say the market remains tight for full-time jobs. State Commerce Department data show that, as of November, there were 1.5 unemployed people for every job opening.

An estimated 7,000 people in Mecklenburg found themselves cut off from long-term unemployment benefits last summer after changes at the state level voided federal aid.

The state’s unemployment rate, now at 7.4 percent, has fallen 2 percentage points over the past year, the largest such drop in the country, and some economists suggest much of the decline is because the jobless are taking part-time jobs or dropping out of the labor force.

Frazier: 704-358-5145; @Ericfraz on Twitter
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