The U.S. economy has now been growing for more than 10 years, its longest-ever expansion without a recession.
Asked how much longer that growth might last, speakers at an economic outlook forum in Richmond on Thursday couldn’t find many reasons for worry.
“The bottom line is, the economy has been performing well” and the economic indicators show more of that going forward, said Ray Owens, senior economist and policy advisor for the Federal Reserve Bank of Richmond.
Owens was one of four speakers on a panel at the “State of the Economy vs. the State of the Union” forum held by the local chapter of the Institute of Real Estate Management. Nearly 200 people attended.
The panel discussion at The Jefferson Hotel in Richmond was moderated by Richmond Times-Dispatch Business Editor Gregory J. Gilligan, who asked the panelists, using a baseball analogy, what inning the current economic cycle is in.
Don Wilkerson, the IREM’s 2019 president and the CEO of Reno, Nev.-based Gaston and Wilkerson Management Group, guessed the top of the fifth inning.
“If we are headed in the next year or so for a little downturn, I don’t think it is going to be some major crash,” he said. “I think maybe a softer landing.”
Richmond Mayor Levar Stoney added an upbeat outlook for the local economy, noting that there are now at least five construction cranes showing in the Richmond skyline as hundreds of millions of dollars in investments are being made in the city.
He touted recent economic development announcements such as online retail giant Amazon’s announcement in July that it will open a large distribution center along Interstate 95 in South Richmond, creating 150 jobs.
“I can’t tell you what inning we are in, I just want to be able to keep on playing,” Stoney said. “I want the game to keep on going.”
Jane DuFrane, Richmond division vice president for real estate investment trust Highwoods Properties, said the local real estate market remains strong across multiple categories, including retail and industrial. In the housing market, demand is outstripping supply and pushing up prices.
“The deal flow is stronger than ever, and I don’t know that anything other than a shock to the global economy would do anything to change that,” DuFrane said.
Recessions are often triggered by economic shocks, which are unpredictable, Owens said. Potential problems that could shock the U.S. economy include a slowing global economy and the ongoing trade war with China.
Owens noted that the U.S. economy has been adding about 200,000 net new jobs a month for about 10 years, a “tremendous” growth rate.
“We are growing jobs faster than we are growing workers,” he said, adding that one of the main problems that employers have is finding enough skilled workers.
Consumer confidence and household spending also remain healthy, he said.
“This is a game that could go into extra innings,” he said.