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Economist bullish about continued growth

Economist Brian Wesbury speaks at a Wintrust Bank luncheon at The Center for Visual and Performing Arts in Munster Friday.

An economist told a local audience Friday that there's reason for optimism economic growth will continue unabated.

Brian Wesbury said he remained bullish about the direction of the economy during a luncheon sponsored by Wintrust Bank at The Center for Visual and Performing Arts in Munster.

Corporate profits are at an all-time high and stocks are booming, he said.

"My forecast has been bullish for the last nine years. I'm a permabull," he said. "I'm Mr. Sunshine. Some might say a stopped clocked is right twice a day. But I've been nine times in a row."

Ever since the turnaround from the Great Recession in 2010, the U.S. economy has grown for a record 96 quarters. Wesbury attributes the unprecedented, unequaled stretch of economic growth to technology, innovation, entrepreneurship and increased productivity. 

"In 1991, an iPhone with 128 gigabytes of flash memory would have cost $11.5 million," he said. "Now it costs $299, plus a two-year plan. That leaves a lot of cash left over. Some economists believe you're not investing unless you're building a billion-mile long paper mill. But now investments are smaller. An app can change the world. You might invest some pizza, ten cases of Red Bull and four all-nighters into an app that would change the world. Small investments can get huge returns."

Technology will continue to yield economic gains, he said, such as an app already accepted in some states that takes eye tests so people can get prescriptions for glasses without visiting an optometrist. Industries continue to get more productive, including the agricultural sector, which has increased yields by an average of 2.4 percent a year over the last 10 to 15 years.

"It used to take 70 days to frack a well, and now it takes 10 days," he said. "It's one-seventh the investment."

The U.S. economy has boomed partly because of cheap energy costs that, along with tax cuts, have helped spike investment, Wesbury said. Lower energy costs have made manufacturing operations, such as energy-intensive aluminum smelting, cost-effective in the United States again so there's less reason to offshore.

"Ten or 11 years ago, we were importing 80 percent of our energy," he said. "Now we're going to be the No. 1 energy producer in the world."

Wintrust Executive Vice President of Commercial Banking Paul Carlisle, a south Hammond native, said the bank hopes to ride the wave of economic growth into a greater presence in Northwest Indiana, where Wintrust currently has a branch in Dyer.

"If the polls are to be believed, Illinois will have a less business-friendly governor," he said. "Chicago will likely have a less business-friendly mayor. It means it will be good business to do more business here in Northwest Indiana.

"We now only have one branch in the state, but our branches just across the border in Lansing, Lynwood and Crete are doing a stunning amount of business on the retail side with Northwest Indiana," Carlisle said. "We're going to continue to hire more here and grow our presence here as well as in the Chicago Southland."

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Business Reporter

Joseph S. Pete is a Lisagor Award-winning business reporter who covers steel, industry, unions, the ports, retail, banking and more. The Indiana University grad has been with The Times since 2013 and blogs about craft beer, culture and the military.