MERRILLVILLE │ The state of the economy and health care reform were among the topics of a business seminar Tuesday at the Radisson Hotel hosted by Centier Strategic Financial Services and Employer Benefit Systems.
Featured speaker Doug Tillett, vice president of public affairs for the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, spoke about serious financial crisis of 2007 and 2008 and the struggles to recover from it.
“The Federal Reserve in the last few years has taken some extraordinary actions to try and help the economy recover, but the recovery has been very slow and sort of one step forward, two steps back,” Tillett said. “I think many people feel it’s not the sort of typical recovery where you hit the bottom and bounce back up very strong. It’s been very hard for folks and one of the things that’s characterized this time period that’s made it really difficult is we’ve had such high unemployment.”
Tillett said the Federal Reserve has been working to stimulate the economy to get businesses to borrow, expand and begin to hire people, which would bring the unemployment rate down.
“The way we’ve done that is by keeping the interest rate really low,” he said. “It’s been almost zero for the last few years now. And one of the things are policymakers have said is it’s likely to stay at zero for awhile, and the thought there is if we take some of the uncertainty out of the equation business people will begin to create more opportunities and people will be hired and we can bring the unemployment rate down. That would be a good thing for everybody. It seems to be working right now.”
Tillett said the Federal Reserve also has to keep its eye on inflation due to the stimulation.
“The buzz words are ‘price stability,’ ” he said.
Tillett said it’s important to have stable prices otherwise “it messes up your decision making.”
“What we have today I would characterize as volatile prices in lots of sectors,” he said. “But we probably don’t have the kind of traditional inflation that we saw in the '70s and '80s. Even though food and gas prices are higher they tend to move around a little bit. Other prices are lower or they’re dropping.”
General sessions of the day-long seminar included a discussion on the health care reform bill by Will Glaros, president of Employer Benefit Systems.
“It’s education and awareness,” Glaros said. “It’s interesting. There are people who really believe, assuming everything stays on track, that there will be free health care as of Jan. 1. It’s important that people really understand that as employers and as employees and individual citizens that they understand what they need to do – there’s some costs impacts coming and they need to be aware of that so they can plan appropriately.”
Anthony Contrucci, Centier Strategic Financial Services products consultant, said the seminar was a way to address “a lot going on for employers nowadays.”
“It’s a fluid landscape – everything from health care to employee-sponsored retirement plans,” he said. “A lot of things you need to know, a lot of developments. We have specialists from all the areas and who have a platform to exchange ideas and share what’s the latest and greatest in those specific categories.”