Columbus’ economy in 2017 is expected to largely mirror state, nation, global and market forecasts that predict not much change from this year, with little or no growth.

Ryan Brewer, assistant professor of finance at IUPUC, said he predicts that the monetary value of all the finished goods and services produced within the Columbus area — its gross domestic product — will be neutral next year.

“That seems to be a bit of a concern,” he said Monday when presenting his local forecast during the Indiana Business Outlook Panel at the Columbus Learning Center.

About 100 attended and heard four economists within the Indiana University system make economic presentations.

“As I see it, the glass is at best half full. My outlook for 2017 (for the United States) is a little bit subdued,” Willard Witte, a retired economics instructor at Indiana University’s Bloomington campus, said during his U.S. and global forecast.

Brewer echoed Witte’s thoughts, presenting both encouraging signs and concerns that essentially negate each other to reach the neutral growth prediction.

Some positive signs locally are:

While Indiana ranks 41st in the country in new startup companies and individual public offerings, Columbus itself ranks 15th among cities in the country in new startups.

Consumer confidence is up and consumer spending has been buttressing the national economy.

The engine that Columbus-based Cummins Inc., the largest employer in Bartholomew County, makes for the Nissan Titan pickup truck represents great potential, as does the QSK95, the company’s largest and most powerful engine.

Columbus added about 1,100 jobs in the past year.

The city has had 16 business expansions this year and last year totaling more than $220 million in investment and creating nearly 220 jobs.

Some of the concerns that Brewer noted are:

Columbus’ GDP growth has slowed considerably from 2013-15, with a rate of 2.5 percent or less, compared to 5-10 percent growth annually 2010-12.

A tight labor market, as the Columbus area is approaching full employment. Columbus had a 3 percent unemployment rate in 2015 and has a 3.1 percent unemployment rate as of September this year — a figure below the state mark and those of neighboring and peer communities.

Residential building permits are down for first time in eight years, from 269 in September 2015 to 207 this September.

Local real estate listings fell from about 10,000 in October 2015 to about 6,000 this October, and sales have been flat during that period.

Auto sales nationally are at an all-time high and expected to peak now and be flat through 2017.

Cummins is dealing with several economic shocks. China’s economy is in transition from infrastructure development to consumption, its international market is soft and its on-highway high-horsepower and medium-horsepower markets are softening.

“There’s nothing out there that leads me to think that (Columbus’ GDP) would be higher versus lower. From the way I look at it, everything considered, it’s going to be about what it was like this year next year,” Brewer said after the event.

“I wouldn’t be surprised if we had 1.5 or 2 percent GDP growth, but I also wouldn’t be surprised if we had a 1.5 or 2 percent decline,” Brewer said.

Breaking down the forecasts

Some highlights of economic forecasts for global, national and state economies and markets as presented Monday morning at the Columbus Learning Center.

Global

  • Europe has a debt problem.
  • China’s economy is experiencing struggles as it transitions from infrastructure investment to consumption and services.

United States

  • The national economy is expected to grow 2 percent or slightly below in 2017.
  • Recent forecasts for the national economy have exceeded the actual result. The 2015 forecast was for 3 percent growth, but actual growth was 1.9 percent. The 2016 forecast called for about 2.5 percent growth, but through the third quarter this year it’s been about 1.5 percent.
  • Forecasts for business investment, government spending and housing sales have fallen short of expectations.
  • Job growth was expected to be slow for 2016, below 200,000 new jobs per month. The 10-month average for this year is 181,000. Next year the average is expected to be below 150,000.
  • Unemployment in 2016 was projected to be below 5 percent; in October it was 4.9. Next year, unemployment is projected to be 4.7 to 4.9 percent range.

Indiana

  • Next year expected to be similar this year.
  • Past year or two has been reasonably good compared to Midwest neighbors. State GDP ranks just behind Michigan but ahead of other neighbors.
  • GDP growth of 3 percent expected for the rest of 2016 and 2.8 percent for 2017.
  • Demand in auto sector expected to be strong again.
  • State is diversifying away from the automotive sector, which increases in pharmaceutical and medical device industries.
  • Impact of automation is GDP growth but not a growth in high-paying jobs.
  • Per-capita personal income in Indiana is 87 percent of the national average.

Financial markets

  • Hope is that markets next year look like markets this year. Not much change expected in the S&P 500 or the Dow Jones Industrial Average.
  • Financial markets don’t seem to have performed like expectations coming out of the Great Recession. Neither corporate earnings nor new corporate investment has grown as expected since the recession.
  • Companies have lots of cash on their balance sheets, but that has been used in recent years for stock repurchases rather than new business investments.

Sources: Willard Witte, retired economics professor at Indiana University’s Bloomington campus; Jim Grandorf, clinical professor of accounting at IU’s Kelley School of Business in Bloomington; James C. Smith, senior lecturer in finance at the Kelley School of Business in Indianapolis.

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Kirk Johannesen is assistant managing editor of The Republic. He can be reached at johannesen@therepublic.com or (812) 379-5639.