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Some see gradual upswing in local economy for 2010

But don’t expect speedy recoveryBy Nathan Hardin
nhardin@salisburypost.com
After a year of economic struggle, Rowan County may see a glint of light at the end of the financial tunnel in 2010.
Local economic experts warn against the expectation of a large boom in economic activity or a huge decrease in unemployment, but they do expect the economy to gradually strengthen in 2010.
Very gradually.
Paul Fisher, chairman and chief executive officer of 100-year-old F&M Bank, urges caution.
“I would likely say 2010 would look a lot like 2009,” Fisher said.
“If people in the marketplace had a better outlook, it might be a bit dangerous. If you begin to gear up as a businessman too quickly, you stand the chance to get out in front of the recovery, (whereas) if you fall behind, you will fall prey to the competition.
“Businesses will have to know when to apply the gas and when to apply the brakes.”
Fisher says the economy may not simply increase linearly.
“The economy is not going to recover in a fluid way,” he says. “It’s going to be difficult to put several winning months together. People have to realize that you have to have confidence in the system. Consumer spending makes up 70 to 80 percent of growth.”
Nationally, consumers appeared more confident in December. Spending rose 3.6 percent from Nov. 1 through Dec. 24 compared with the same period last year, according to MasterCard Advisors’ SpendingPulse. How that attitude will change in 2010 is anyone’s guess.
Fisher isn’t the only local leader who believes the local economy will improve, if only by a little.
Carl Ford, chairman of the Rowan County Board of Commissioners, has a similar prediction about the 2010 economy.
“It should pick up some in certain areas,” Ford said. “(The problem is) there is a gain of a couple thousand jobs and then a loss of three to four thousand. The sales tax revenue has been way off; that will pick up. It’ll be another tough year, but my hopes are up.”
Last May, the county manager’s budget message said sales tax collections had fallen 8 percent, or $1.8 million.
Ford agrees with Fisher in terms of the unemployment issues for the upcoming year, and warns that the growth will not be rapid.
Unemployment went from 8.6 percent in November 2008 to a high of nearly 14 percent in July, a level not seen here since the recession of the early 1980s.
In October, the latest month for which numbers are available, Rowan’s unemployment rate was 13.3 percent.
“I think the job loss has slowed down, I think we’ll see some jobs in 2010,” Ford explained. “It’ll be slower than what’s shown nationally.”
This year’s big job losses came from many directions ó major layoffs at Freightliner, the closing of Carter Chair and W.A. Brown, for starters.
But there were bright spots on the job scene, too ó the announced expansion of Henkel (formerly National Starch), the forecast of 162 new jobs at Magnum Composites, the opening of Sustainable Textile Group in China Grove with 223 jobs, and the addition of 165 positions at PGT Industries.
The Grand on Julian, a new apartment development, opened in 2009. The Literary Bookpost, Walser Technology, Ralph Bakers Shoes and Hibbett Sports moved to new locations. Olive Garden and Longhorn restaurants opened, and more chain eating establishments like Dunkin Donuts and Taco Bell are getting ready to open their doors.
In the nonprofit arena, Sacred Heart Catholic Church opened a new campus and First United Methodist Church is expanding. A giant crane hovered over downtown Salisbury for some time as work began on Piedmont Players’ new children’s theater.
Construction began in 2009 at Rowan-Cabarrus Community College’s new biotechnology facility at the N.C. Research Campus, and residential construction picked up in the Kannapolis area.
How much those bright spots will light the way to an economic recovery remains to be seen.
Robert Van Geons, executive director of the Salisbury-Rowan Economic Development Commission, did not differ from Fisher or Ford in his cautiously optimistic view of the 2010 economy.
“I think going forward in 2010, companies that have made it this far, weathered the storm, will continue to see increases,” Van Geons said. “Rowan County and the Southeast is the best place to be to weather that storm. … It will be a long road for all of us.”

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