There are reasons to be optimistic about the economy for the rest of the year, but long-term concerns loom as well, an economist told a local development group on Friday.
Kansas City has notable strengths, including schools that still focus on training for in-demand jobs.
“This is something that has always been at the heart of what Kansas City does,” Chris Keuhl of Armada Corporate Intelligence said at the annual meeting of the Independence Economic Development Council.
Keuhl underlined connections between the U.S. and world economies but also stressed that national statistics don’t always tell what’s going on in a given part of the country.
“There are unique characteristics for every area,” he said.
Kansas City, for example, has a relatively diverse economy that tends not to see the high highs or low lows that other regions experience.
“We never feel the big surge,” he said.
He added, “Occasionally we’re just plain lucky.”
The auto industry has been down, but this area’s two auto plants – Ford at Claycomo and GM at Fairfax – make popular models and have been running three shifts.
“That was a bit of a break,” he said.
He also downplayed the concern raised sometimes that Kansas City has few major corporate headquarters. The other side of that, he said, is that takeovers and other big changes can rattle the home-office city.
“We’re a branch town – doesn’t matter who operates the headquarters,” he said.
More broadly, he said, even though millions are out of work and millions more are underemployed, companies – especially in manufacturing – are seeing a growing gap between the skills they need and what’s available.
“It is getting worse,” he said, but he added that many schools in this region have held on to programs that prepare young people for manufacturing and other fields.
“Kansas City is one of the most innovative regions. Independence is at the top of the list” in having schools that do training, he said.
He noted the metro area’s reputation for hard work and said people who live here tend to put down roots and stay – an advantage in an era in which it’s hard to get employees to make long-term commitments.
“All of these factors create a good environment for growth,” he said.
Keuhl also touched on other issues:
• How can bosses of one generation motivate the younger workers of another?
“Baby boomers and millennials are not on the same planet,” he said.
• Many of those who lost jobs in the recession were in the middle of the pecking order in their companies, the people who would now be in line to step up as those in senior positions look at retiring.
“‘What happened to my talent in the middle?’” Keuhl said managers are asking themselves. “Well, they’re gone.”
“Labor force challenges are going to get really, really interesting in six to seven years,” he said.
• Will inflation take off and interest rates rise? Not likely very soon, he said, given the number of unemployed and underemployed people.
“The big growth for the last year has been in the service sector, and it’s not in the high-paid service sector. It the low-paid,” he said.
Major economies overseas are weaker than America’s, and he said much of the decline in the U.S. gross domestic product in the first quarter of 2014 was due to what he called a collapse in exports. U.S. manufacturers export 60 percent of what they make.
“So if the rest of the world isn’t buying, you’re not selling,” he said.
• The politicians don’t help, he said.
“We as consumers get depressed during election years. ... We no longer go into elections in anticipation of better days ahead,” he said.