Last year was a roller coaster year for the business community in Northwest Indiana as we were faced with daily headlines touting such economic risks as the fiscal cliff, economic downturns in European countries and the political unrest in the Middle East — not to mention the slow recovery from the recession and the angst created by the plethora of presidential debates and the never-ending political campaigns.
But, in the final analysis, following the re-election of President Barack Obama, and the fiscal cliff issue being partially put to rest, the outlook for 2013 is quite optimistic.
With record-low interest rates and deflated housing values making the current market more affordable than ever, Realtors saw a strong year-end finish to home sales in Northwest Indiana. These record-low interest rates, coupled with more sellers putting their homes on the market, indicate that 2013 will remain a buyer’s market.
Add the Federal Reserve’s pledge to keep interest rates near zero and the manufacturing sector getting stronger each month, and this year bodes well for not only the home buyer, but also for the business community.
Large capital investments, such as the new intermodal project at Kingsbury in LaPorte County, Porter County’s long-awaited opening of Porter Regional Hospital, the Northwest Indiana Regional Development Authority’s leveraging of millions of dollars of investment along our shorelines, the new Potash Corp. rail project in Hammond, and the completion of BP’s multibillion-dollar modernization project, 2013 is well on its way to being our best year since the recession started in 2007-2008.
The Lakeshore Chamber of Commerce was fortunate to host both of our mayors from Hammond and East Chicago, along with the president of the Chicago Federal Reserve Bank and the president and CEO of ArcelorMittal USA, at four of our general membership luncheons.
The tone of these four gentlemen when comparing the economy of the past four years to their outlook for this year was remarkably positive. Both mayors have exciting projects planned for their communities in 2013, and both Charlie Evans and Mike Rippey (Federal Reserve and ArcelorMittal) predicted that while the economy is not quite ready to explode, it nevertheless will grow steadily at 2.5 percent this year, and improve to 3.5 percent in 2014.
The unemployment rate continues to be high, but job growth is steadily improving, with 150,000 jobs being added monthly. In December, the Federal Reserve pledged to keep interest rates near zero until the unemployment rate reaches 6.5 percent.
Rippey noted that the average age of cars and trucks on the road today is 10.8 years, a record high, and with a steadily increasing population in the United States, and the aging U.S. fleet of cars, we have a strong opportunity to see a spending boom in the next few years in the automotive business.
Now it's time for the business community to shake loose some of those savings and start creating jobs.