Opinion and Editorials

EDITORIAL: Silver linings to April's slow start

April 14, 2012

High gas prices, slow job growth and predictions of flat first-quarter earnings kicked off a stock market correction at the beginning of the month after a robust first quarter. But daily doses of negative financial news shouldn’t cause us to lose sight of good signs for the local economy.

As J.K. Wall reported last week, the Indianapolis jobs picture is brighter than previous reports indicated.

Figures released late last summer by the federal Bureau of Labor Statistics showed the city continuing to lose jobs and sinking to its lowest level of employment since the beginning of the recession in December 2007. The grim news came even as the nation as a whole added jobs.

But revised data provided by the BLS last month revealed last year’s numbers were understated. The metro area had about 15,000 more jobs than previously reported and ended the year on a roll. By February, there were 890,000 people employed in Marion and adjacent counties, an increase of 6,000 since December—and 23,000 more than the original December numbers.

The employment levels are more in line with the optimism expressed by local bankers, who’ve seen an uptick in loan demand, and by Hoosier business owners. Nearly two-thirds of those surveyed for a PNC Bank poll released April 5 said they were optimistic about the Indiana economy.

But problems persist. There’s been no increase in the number of high-paying manufacturing jobs since early 2011, and the number is off 18 percent since the start of the recession. New jobs here tend to be lower-paying service jobs, meaning average wages aren’t keeping pace with inflation.

What’s likely to remedy the situation? Nothing on its own, but one of the cures, as we’ve been hearing for years, is a robust local tech sector. Finally, there are tangible signs the decades-long quest to develop one is paying off.

In last week’s Technology and Intellectual Property Focus section, reporter Chris O’Malley documented true progress in the region’s creation of its own tech eco-system, one in which all the ingredients exist to spin out successful ventures much more quickly than in the past.

Scott Jones and other veteran tech entrepreneurs were largely on their own in the early days, with few local resources in the way of funding or know-how to help get them started. But their perseverance, some of which involved temporarily moving to regions better equipped to nurture startups, has paid off.

The veterans have spawned a network of expertise and capital that is accelerating the formation and growth of new firms, such as personal finance software company MyJibe LLC, which found a buyer barely a year after it was up and running.

The maturing of the region’s tech sector bodes well for the long-term future of our economy.

In the meantime, the news of the day isn’t all gloom and doom. Sure, housing starts aren’t setting the world on fire and job growth took a break in March. But first-quarter earnings showed signs of beating expectations, and fresh predictions say gas prices will trend down soon.

From Wall Street to Meridian Street, there are reasons to be optimistic about the economy. The good signs deserve equal weight with the bad when we think about the future.•

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To comment on this editorial, write to ibjedit@ibj.com.

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