Harford Chamber Hosts Economic Outlook Breakfast

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Harford County Chamber of Commerce Economic Outlook Breakfast photographed by Maryland Commercial photographers Robin Sommer and Bill Rettberg of MidAtlantic Photographic LLC

On March 31st, the Harford County Chamber of Commerce hosted their annual Economic Outlook event in person for the first time since 2019. Sponsored by APGFCU, the morning featured speakers Dr. Daraius Irani, Vice President of Strategic Partnerships & Applied Research at Towson University; Rick Fletcher, Executive Vice President at The Kelly Group; and Len Parrish, Director of the Harford County Office of Community & Economic Development. 

Dr. Irani began his presentation entitled “The Jumanji Economy,“ sharing the quote, “We yearn to see the numbers boom, but lately they bring only gloom.” He shared a lot of uncertainty about the current economy; the most significant impact is inflation’s rising cost of goods and services. Many factors have affected the rise in inflation, such as supply chain issues, the Ukrainian war, and rising gas prices, to name a few. Although a new variant of the COVID virus has been announced, it is believed to be more of an endemic than the continuation of the COVID pandemic. However, it will still have lingering effects on the economy.

The Supply Chain issues will continue as China is still experiencing the effects of the COVID virus. One of the most significant needs for imports is computer chips to manufacture goods and services. The imported computer chips are allocated to interests based on the profit margins. Car inventories are currently at an all-time low.

Not all the economic news is terrible; some positive economic trends have been. There has been a 33% growth in investments (purchases used to provide a good or service.) The Government’s spending declined during the fourth quarter of 2021. The increase in exports is outpacing the growth in imports.

Dr. Irani shared that the percentage of vaccinated Marylanders is above the national average. Reports show that Maryland and the rest of the nation are slowly returning to the pre-pandemic way of life; although it is slow, the economy is positively trending upwards. Dr. Irani believes that most Americans will have to get a COVID yearly vaccine shot, just like most do with the flu. It will become part of the new normal, he believes. Economic recovery is expected to reach pre-pandemic levels around 2024 (assuming no other factors interfere with current trends).

There are five million more jobs available than unemployed individuals to fill nationwide. Unemployment rates are beginning to return to pre-pandemic levels. Job requirements are changing for many jobs due to the need for skilled individuals to fill those jobs. . It is believed that this might be due to the labor shortage.

About 4.2 million employees have resigned from their jobs in search of better jobs. Since the initial COVID shutdown, about 20-30% of workplaces have gone to a completely virtual or a hybrid model for their work schedules. At that same time, there has been a 20% decrease in available childcare facilities post-COVID, causing many issues for parents working outside of the home. Some facilities are slowly re-opening, but more children still need care than facilities to care for them.

Rick Fletcher, Executive Vice President of The Kelly Group, echoed many of Dr. Irani’s statements.  He provided an overview of the recent performance, of various asset classes; discussed market & economic indicators; and addressed the significance of knowing one’s risk tolerance and how to make the best use of behavioral finance for your portfolio and financial plan.  Rick addressed the recent volatile performance of the stock and bond markets. Such volatility often leads to investors overreacting, making poor investment decisions based on emotions, thus tending to underperform the broader returns of the asset classes.  Because “fear” is a greater motivator than “greed”, the average investor throughout the years tends to rationalize why now is not a good time to invest.  The key is to stick to your Financial Plan based on your goals and objectives; have the right asset allocation & diversification based on your risk profile; monitor & rebalance your portfolio; stay the course; and don’t try to time the market.” 

Len Parrish rounded out our speakers and gave us an overview of Harford County’s Economic standing. The Harford County Office of Community and Economic Development remains eternally optimistic. The county’s employment growth is the highest in the surrounding Baltimore area counties. With the change of remote workers, they noticed that increased employees are being hired from other states around the nation to fill such jobs.

Defense work remains to be the number one industry in Harford County. The rate of retail vacancy space has dropped from 8% in 2020 to around 6% now. There is a lot of tremendous growth in the Harford County area in many sectors. The development of the healthcare sector, the County’s second-largest industry, has continued, although there are concerns about where the employees will come from to fill those necessary positions. Although it is not a big moneymaker, agricultural business is a way of life, especial for Harford County, and there is growth being seen in agribusiness.

Len feels that tourism to the area should return to pre-pandemic numbers in 2022. It was consistent messaging that we are on the way to having positive economic growth, but we must patiently let it happen in time.

About the Harford County Chamber of Commerce: Harford’s Voice for Business, the Harford Chamber equips the business community with resources, connections, educational and professional development opportunities, and cost-savings programs. The Harford Chamber is the premier business advocate in the county, helping members

connect and thrive on creating a vibrant economy across all sectors. For more information, please get in touch with Lauren Bottcher at lauren@HarfordChamber.org.

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