TRAVERSE CITY — Traverse Connect’s annual Economic Outlook Summit and Business Expo, like so many other business events, this year converted to virtual format.
Instead of gathering hundreds of people at the Grand Traverse Resort as in previous years, the event was shared with attendees Tuesday via the internet.
Speakers broadcast a belief that the U.S. in general — and northwest Lower Michigan in particular — gradually will pull out of the current economic doldrums.
“We have a lot of great relationships in this town,” said Todd Klepper, part owner and general manager of the Filling Station Microbrewery. “And I think this summer proved that, even with a global pandemic happening, Traverse City is a place that people want to come to. And so I think the future is bright in terms of continuing to have visitors and, hopefully, people wanting to work and live here.
“One of the crucial things moving forward will continue to be recruitment and doing everything we can to promote affordable workforce housing and better transportation. As a restaurant community, one of the biggest challenges of this entire experience has been lack of folks that are ready and willing to work.”
Businesses of all types this year have adapted to changes in regulation and customer attitudes.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has been incredibly tough on our community and our nation, and especially difficult for our small businesses,” said Traverse Connect President and CEO Warren Call. “Business leaders have changed they way they operate in order to overcome the many challenges we have faced and continue to face every day.”
Jeff Korzenik, chief investment strategist for Fifth Third Bank, was Economic Outlook Summit keynote speaker in both 2019 and 2020.
Last year, he spoke about companies struggling with an insufficient workforce and how they potentially could tap reformed drug abusers and convicted felons to fill empty slots in the workforce. Korzenik this year focused on how the pandemic interrupted the economy and blasted millions of workers out of their jobs, at least temporarily.
Most economic downturns start with an economic imbalance, he said, which causes a “slow, grinding downturn — and then a long period of repair, recovery, and then eventual expansion.”
“Here’s the way it typically works,” he said. “Stock prices recover before earnings recover. Earnings recover before GDP fully recovers. And GDP fully recovers before employment fully recovers. So the new highs the market is making today, or at least this week, at least in part reflect the wealth of good news that we can expect down the pike.”
Massive injections of federal government stimulus have helped, said Korzenik.
“For business owners, it’s cold comfort to say ‘It could have been worse.’ But these interventions mattered. Even workers who did suffer from layoffs had extended unemployment benefits that helped preserve consumption in the economy.”
“It’s a good thing that we’ve been able to contain this, even at the cost of the looming federal budget deficit,” he said.
“We should be setting up for a multi-year period of growth — that would be the baseline expectation. But, of course, the issue that caused this downturn in the first place — the pandemic — has not gone away.”
But despite rising COVID-19 hospitalizations, Korzenik doesn’t think the nation is at risk of a double-dip recession, and believes the economy will grow at a slow and perhaps choppy pace over the next few years.