UNC Charlotte economist predicts growth for NC economy next year

Look to 2015 for another year of economic growth for North Carolina, with unemployment expected to continue falling and employers forecast to post a net increase in jobs, UNC Charlotte economist John Connaughton said Tuesday.

Connaughton, who delivered those predictions as part of his latest quarterly forecast for the state’s economy, said he expects falling gasoline prices to be a key source of growth for the U.S. and state economy. Those lower gasoline prices are putting money in consumers’ pockets that they can spend on discretionary items, he said.

Connaughton said the overall U.S. economy has been expanding since July 2009. He said he does not expect that to slow down.

“They could shut the government down tomorrow and it wouldn’t matter,” he said. “We are going to have a robust year in 2015.”

Connaughton said he expects North Carolina’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate to be about 6.2 percent by the end of this year. According to the U.S. Department of Labor, North Carolina’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 6.3 percent in October, the latest month for which data is available.

Connaughton predicts the rate to be 5.8 percent by the end of next year.

As the unemployment rate has fallen nationally and corporate profits hit record highs, some have voiced concerns about wages remaining flat. But Connaughton said he expects ongoing declines in unemployment to eventually lead to wage growth.

“...That’ll be the first time since this recession began ... that we’re actually going to start to see rises in wages,” he said.

For 2014, Connaughton is predicting employers in the state will add 98,600 net jobs. For next year, he’s forecasting a net increase of 75,400.

Connaughton delivered his report the same day Chicago-based accounting firm Grant Thornton released a survey showing nearly half of chief financial officers in the U.S. expect the U.S. economy to improve during the next six months.

While it’s encouraging that CFOs aren’t expecting contraction in the economy, they’re not predicting significant growth either, Stephen Chipman, CEO of Grant Thornton, said in a statement about that survey’s results.