There are reasons to be cautiously optimistic, but the national economy is not yet where it should be, experts at the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce's annual Regional Economic Forecast told an audience of business leaders Thursday morning.
Panelist John Calamos Sr., chief executive officer and global co-chief investment officer of Calamos Investments in Naperville, brought the optimism, saying the economy seems to be improving despite worries about additional regulations such as changes related to health care reform.
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"In our outlook, we're cautiously optimistic," Calamos said. "We think the markets still have more room to grow going forward."
Panelist J.D. Foster, deputy chief economist for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, tempered that outlook by saying nationwide, businesses are doing "OK, making money but it could be better." Four years after the recession of 2008 ended, businesses should be acting, hiring and selling with more confidence and success than they are in reality, he said.
"Everybody is basically just doing OK, and we should be outraged with that," Foster said. "The economy should be growing very rapidly ... but that's not in anyone's forecast."
The varying viewpoints boil down to a message to Naperville-area companies that they have to take risks and willfully move the local economy forward, said Mike Evans, the chamber's president and CEO.
While he said there may never be a perfect time to build a hotel or retail and office center, developers such as The Marquette Companies and BBM Incorporated recently have committed to such projects in downtown Naperville, moving toward completion of the Water Street District in 2015 and Main Street Promenade East next fall.
"People should be optimistic and they have to use their resources," Evans said -- be it bankers, financial advisers, academics or business advocacy groups like the chamber. "We're not going to grow our economy if we don't decide to expand."
Much of the discussion, led by moderator Terry Savage, a personal finance expert and longtime Sun-Times columnist who now blogs frequently for Huffington Post and makes TV appearances, covered national and international topics.
But audience members like Troy Hammond, president of North Central College, and Ray Kinney, president of Minuteman Press, brought some local topics into the conversation.
Kinney sought expert input on the status of the Naperville economy, and Calamos said it appears to have recovered faster from the recession than the rest of the suburbs, especially downtown.
Hammond asked about the outlook for future graduates of schools like North Central, a private liberal arts college with programs in nearly 70 areas of study. The U.S. Chamber's Foster told him there will be some opportunities for successful entrance into the career world, mainly for graduates who earn degrees that apply to specific positions and are willing to move to wherever the jobs are.
"It's going to be a very soft job market," Foster said. "And it's probably going to be a soft job market for a very long time."