By Jessica Borders
Times West Virginian
At the upcoming Morgantown MSA Economic Outlook Conference, experts will offer insights about the economy from the local to global levels.
The West Virginia University College of Business and Economics’ Bureau of Business and Economic Research (BBER) is holding the event on March 19 at the Waterfront Place Hotel in Morgantown. The conference will begin at 8 a.m. with a continental breakfast, and the program will run from 8:30 a.m. to noon.
Dr. Andy Bauer, economist for the Baltimore Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond, will deliver his economic forecast for the country.
From the WVU College of Business and Economics, Dr. Jose “Zito” Sartarelli, Milan Puskar dean, will present his global economic outlook. Dr. Paul Speaker, associate professor of finance and adjunct associate professor of economics, will focus on the Morgantown MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area), which includes Monongalia and Preston counties, with references to the state overall.
Specialists in different industry sectors will also provide their expertise during a panel discussion.
Speaker, who is also vice president of Operations Management Consultants LLC and president of Forensic Science Management Consultants LLC, said the BBER recently gave lawmakers an update before the legislative session started, and his presentation at the conference will build on that information.
“Over the next four to five years, we anticipate seeing some growth,” he said of the state’s forecast. “It’s slow growth, but it is growth. The general message is positive.”
The Eastern Panhandle and Northern West Virginia are the two areas of the state that have been feeling the best effects from the growth of the U.S. economy, Speaker said.
He said Morgantown is expected to fare even better than the rest of the state. The boom that the city saw over the last five years to decade is continuing, but not at such an exhilarating rate.
“Morgantown is doing quite well,” Speaker said.
With the sequestration under way, he expects to see questions from attendees about how that will affect this area and West Virginia.
The BBER publishes its West Virginia Economic Outlook every November and holds its state conference in conjunction with the release. Because the Morgantown MSA conference is held in March, the bureau has
most of the data from 2012 and can update its forecast for the event, Speaker said.
Regional conferences also took place in the Eastern Panhandle — in Berkeley and Morgan counties — in November, he said. Events have been organized in the Northern Panhandle and the Parkersburg area in the past.
In the future, the BBER will probably tie its regional outlook conferences to the timeliness of the state outlook conference, Speaker said.
He said the staff members of the BBER do a marvelous job. They use raw data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the U.S. Department of Commerce, and a variety of federal government sources to create these forecasts. In addition, they look at statistics from the Federal Reserve Banks in Richmond and Cleveland and subscribe to the IHS Global Insight forecast service.
The BBER takes all of that information and adds a good amount of local knowledge to the trends they see, Speaker said.
He explained that the outlook publications that the bureau creates are helpful in terms of companies’ plans to hire people and meet demands. The forecasts allow businesses to look at where growth is going to happen and move their efforts in those directions.
Engineering, CPA and law firms, and banks are all tied to this growth, and this information can help them make better long-range decisions. The BBER’s outlook is also valuable for the decision-making of legislators as well, Speaker said.
“The folks in the bureau have just done an outstanding job in really giving people a heads up on where things are going,” he said.
Dr. Tom Witt, professor of economics emeritus at WVU, said the College of Business and Economics has been holding the Morgantown MSA Economic Outlook Conference for around 15 years.
Bill McLaughlin, former chairman and CEO of Huntington Banks West Virginia, was instrumental in starting the event, which was modeled after the BBER’s state conference in Charleston. It has been more of a regional conference, starting in Clarksburg, Bridgeport and Fairmont, and then migrating up to Morgantown.
“The attendance has tended to increase almost every year,” Witt said.
While the conference began with about 50 or 60 attendees, that number has grown to more than 150 people in recent years, he said. Representatives from real estate, manufacturing and service-related businesses often attend, as well as members of the Legislature, local politicians and citizens.
All of these people benefit from learning about what’s going on with the economy across the nation and specifically in the Morgantown area, Witt said.
“The businesses who are in attendance can use that info to plan their finances and their marketing and the other aspects of their operations for the upcoming year or two,” he said.
Witt said Bauer of the Federal Reserve has spoken at the BBER’s Eastern Panhandle conferences in the past, and his speech should be very informative and useful.
The nation is seeing signs of a more robust private sector, and growth in employment in that sector is making the country’s unemployment rate the lowest it’s been in a long time. Bauer will be able to provide the audience with more input on this trend, Witt said.
In addition, the conference gives attendees time for breaks where they can chat with each other about happenings in the business community, he said.
“It’s an opportunity to network with people that have similar types of interests,” Witt said.
The cost is $55 per person, or $20 for college students. Registration is required, and persons can sign up online at bber.wvu.edu.
Email Jessica Borders at firstname.lastname@example.org or follow her on Twitter @JBordersTWV.