Slow growth but positive signs ahead, say experts
October 10, 2013By Jenny Callison
There will be a slightly increased rate of economic growth in the Wilmington area during 2014, a UNCW economist predicted Thursday.
At the University of North Carolina Wilmington’s annual economic outlook conference, William (Woody) Hall, economist at UNCW, forecasted a 2.5 percent rate of growth for next year – but with a number of conditions.
“If there is no major weather event, if there’s no terrorist event, if the federal government restarts soon, and if there’s no government default,” were his caveats against which he predicted increased economic activity.
Hall referred to the current shutdown as having hampered his efforts to assemble economic indicators from government websites.
Nevertheless, Hall presented the newest versions of his annual data summaries that show how various industries are doing and chart employment growth. He continued to report the health of Brunswick, New Hanover and Pender counties even though Brunswick County has been removed from the Wilmington MSA.
Hall reminded his audience that he had predicted an economic growth rate of 1.7 percent for 2012; the rate was actually 2 percent.
He pointed to this area’s rebounded retail and tourism sectors and noted increasing real estate activity, with the Wilmington Regional Association of Realtors reporting a sales level that’s up 133 percent from its lowest point during the downturn, and Brunswick Association of Realtors reporting sales up 140 percent from its lowest point.
Hall’s cautious optimism about the real estate market was echoed by the conference’s real estate panel, which featured Ken Dull of McKinley Building Corp., Teresa Huffmon of Coldwell Banker Commercial and Chris Livengood of Intracoastal Realty.
While conceding that he’s an optimist, Dull said commercial activity seems to be picking up.
One example, he said, was his getting the go-ahead to start building the long-dormant Atlantic Marine project at the corner of Military Cutoff and Wrightsville Avenue.
Despite an uptick in mortgage rates, Livengood reminded his audience that rates are still historically low and said that, in the future, homebuyers and real estate investors would look back on the current period as a time of real opportunity and real estate affordability.
In response to a question, Dull said, “Hospital consolidation will result in nice buildings going dark.”
Huffmon, who deals with commercial and medical real estate, said that consolidation of medical practices would result in some buildings being vacated, while the trend would continue of medical groups building satellite facilities in the suburbs.
She added that there was still more activity in commercial leases than in purchases and that loans were still difficult to get for non-owner-occupied commercial properties.
Panel moderator Larry Clark, dean of the Cameron School of Business at UNCW, noted that the Cameron Executive Network – made up largely of retired business professionals who mentor students at the school – got 18 new members this year, after seeing slow growth during the downturn.
“We’re definitely seeing more people moving here to retire who have been trapped for a while because they could not sell their homes elsewhere,” Clark said.
The area's contract research organization industry was another focus of the conference. To read about that discussion, click here.