Experts think positive on economy

The Mirror

The economy in King County and the rest of the Puget Sound region has come back enough from recession and high unemployment to give the immediate future an optimistic feel.

That was part of the message from economic analyst Dick Conway to an audience at the annual Economic Forecast Breakfast sponsored Feb. 12 by the Federal Way Chamber of Commerce.

He was a featured speaker for the event at The Commons at Federal Way along with J. Lennox Scott, chairman of John L. Scott Real Estate. Scott, too, painted a positive picture, based on the housing market.

Conway, who heads Seattle-based Dick Conway and Associates and serves on state and regional advisory boards dealing with economic issues, said the region is four years removed from its last “employment peak.” Although the regional economy is still about 25,000 jobs short of a complete recovery, “it has clearly turned the corner,” he said. He attributed the improvement to the “resilience” of the region, which includes Pierce, Snohomish and Kitsap counties.

By last November, employment in the region was up 2.2 percent in 2004 –– compared to 1.6 percent nationally –– and the regional unemployment rate has dropped from a recession-high 7.4 percent to 5.3 percent, Conway said.

He noted the recession was spurred by factors such as 9-11, Boeing layoffs and “the dot-com bust.”

About $11 billion –– 14 percent –– of the total personal income earned in King County goes outside with workers who live in other counties, further evidence that King County is the job center of the region. Last year, with 52 percent of the population, it had 67 percent of the jobs, Conway said.

Scott said job growth and low interest rates helped make 2004 a record sales year nationally and for his company.

He said 2004’s “quick action market” was also driven by record numbers of homebuyers, especially in “more affordable” price ranges, and low inventory of homes for sale. According to Northwest Multiple Listing Service, the Puget Sound region’s inventory was down 23 percent from 2003.

Scott predicted the market will be strong again this year, with sellers likely to receive multiple offers from buyers who will still face a continued shortage of listings.

Also, people born in the 1980s and early 1990s will become prospective homebuyers in the next few years, causing an “enormous drain” on available properties, Scott said.

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