Is 2014 finally the year? The year the economy finally takes off and leaves the memories of recession behind?

To help bring some clarity to the direction of the economy and to what businesses should be considering as they prepare to do battle once again, we’ve assembled a panel of five experts for our 2014 Economic Forecast event next week. 

In advance of the event, we asked each panelist to draw from his or her expertise and answer one question. I’ll be moderating the event and I hope you can join us for what should be an enlightening luncheon. 

– Chris Conetzkey

Debi Durham
Director, Iowa Economic Development Authority

“It’s obvious after these last few years that Iowa is working! From January of 2011 through December of 2013, we’ve had the opportunity at the Iowa Economic Development Authority to assist projects that are expected to create or retain over 26,000 direct, indirect and induced jobs and result in a collective capital investment of over $7.5 billion in Iowa. I predict that 2014 will be yet another banner year for economic development in Iowa based on the projects we are seeing in the pipeline. The challenges will be to make sure that our strategies to recruit new Iowans will work and to be sure our current residents have access to the right kind of education and training to bridge the middle-skills gap that exists today. Increasing access to apprenticeship training and bringing military vets to Iowa are just two of the initiatives that are designed to address the issue that near-full employment brings.” 

Franklin Codel
Executive vice president and head of mortgage production, Wells Fargo & Co.

“According to commentary published by our Wells Fargo Securities Economics Group, the U.S. will set the stage for improving, sustainable growth in the year ahead by setting a more balanced course for fiscal and monetary policy. This will be the key to reducing uncertainty. Here in the Midwest, the economy is well-positioned going into 2014, and our economic growth held up well in 2013 thanks to energy production, a strong farm sector and an increase in automobile manufacturing and sales. We remain optimistic about the housing market in 2014 as it continues to transition away from a market driven primarily by speculators and investors to one driven by the underlying positive fundamentals for both single-family and multifamily housing. Employment and credit availability are improving modestly, and the pace of the housing recovery varies by region. Overall, home prices are set to moderate as supply adjusts to the economy’s slower long-term growth trend.”

Mary Mosiman
Auditor of State, Iowa

“We are fortunate that Iowa’s economy is a diverse mixture of industries, including agriculture, manufacturing, transportation, utilities, education, health care, leisure, hospitality and government, to name a few. A challenge facing state government is how to improve the economic climate for this diverse mixture of industries and benefit as many Iowans as possible. Property tax reform, enacted last year, is one step to accomplish that. However, that action, along with others taken in recent years, result in some long-term financial commitments we must remain aware of. We must ensure that our state budget is sustainable in the long term and as predictable as possible so Iowa’s businesses and citizens can make their economic decisions with as much certainty as possible.”

David Miles
Chair and CEO, Miles Capital Inc.

“While there will be fits and starts in the coming year, the U.S. economy is showing signs of standing on its own feet. Housing has recovered well nationally – dramatically so in the some of the hardest-hit areas. Unemployment continues to decline, reaching 6.7 percent for December 2013 (though payroll growth was disappointing last month). Gross domestic product growth looks to be coming in near 4 percent in the second half of 2013. This is a welcome move after five years of Federal Reserve-provided life support. In light of the progress that has been made, the key measure to watch will be whether the Federal Reserve stays on course to eliminate its bond-buying program – so-called quantitative easing.  In December the Fed announced a reduction (in quantitative easing) of $10 billion per month to $75 billion. The Fed’s newly confirmed chair, Janet Yellen, is broadly expected to continue tapering. If the Fed finds it necessary to reverse course, that would be an ominous sign indeed.”

Dave Swenson
Economist, Iowa State University

“Competition for skilled labor will be keener. Many have lamented of late about shortages of critical skills in manufacturing, information technology, engineering and in other industrial areas. Those absences will be felt more acutely in upcoming years. The reasons are straightforward: First, our overall demographic composition means we will have aging worker exit rates at historically high levels while our young worker entrance rates are comparatively leaner. Second, even though Iowa produces a broad range of skilled and educated workers, those skilled workers historically migrate to areas that pay the most or provide the most amenities. That means skilled human capital leans heavily toward Iowa’s larger cities and other nearby metropolitan areas. Next, continued high rates of young adult out-migration in Iowa’s nonmetropolitan areas will worsen skill shortages across a wide range of critical industrial areas ranging from manufacturing, to business administration, to health care delivery. And finally, get in line: There are technology skill demands in all major industries – Iowa’s employers are all competing for the same core competencies across a wide range of industrial occupational needs.”