Naperville's economic outlook 'cautious but positive'
Business and political leaders in Naperville gathered Thursday morning for their latest yearly look at how global and national economic factors trickle down into the regional business climate.
An economist, a tax policy expert and an investment adviser presented their views on an economy they say is expected to grow at a slow rate.
"We're cautious but positive," said panelist John Calamos Sr., chairman, chief executive officer and global co-chief investment officer of Calamos Investments. "We think we're in a slow-growth economy."
Calamos said the economy has dipped 16 times in "corrections" since 2009, but those drops indicate uncertainty about tax policies and volatility in the market -- not high potential for a recession around the corner.
Panelist Blu Putnam, managing director and chief economist of the CME Group, offered one take on why only slight economic growth is expected: It's hard to keep improving on already-efficient business operations.
Putnam said the nation's labor force isn't growing as the population ages, so future economic growth has to come from increased productivity. Since businesses already harness so much technology, it's difficult to increase productivity by leaps and bounds. Slight gains of 2 percent or 2.5 percent are more realistic, he said.
Caroline Harris, chief tax counsel and executive director of tax policy for the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, said the nation's tax policies could be another factor handicapping the economy and preventing faster growth. Harris said America's tax rates on corporations and small businesses are too high and our country's policies of "double-taxing overseas earnings" are "antiquated."
"Across the board our entire economy is hurt by our continued failure to do tax reform," she said.
Looking ahead, she doesn't see the right political climate for tax reform to be enacted in 2016. Not in an election year and not with the "widening" political divide between Democrats and Republicans.
Moderator Terry Savage, a syndicated columnist on personal finance and the economy, set up the discussion by painting a picture of an economy marked by low prices on commodities such as gasoline and natural gas, a growing risk of deflation worldwide and uncertainty in the U.S. about the timing of an interest-rate increase.
It's these types of global and national trends the Regional Economic Forecast is designed to offer to local business leaders as they navigate a "questionable" environment in the months ahead, said Nicki Anderson, president and CEO of the Naperville Area Chamber of Commerce.
"It's probably the best resource for having a clear understanding of where our economy is and where it's going," Anderson said. "The panelists do a good job of simplifying what can be a complex conversation."
In simple terms, predictions of a slowly growing economy rose to the forefront.
"Listening today," Anderson said, "I remain cautiously optimistic."