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Toledo’s high living standard, low unemployment need better marketing, analyst says

Posted By: The Toledo Blade on March 14, 2024.  For more information, please click here to read the source article.

Toledo must mount a marketing campaign to stress its affordability and availability of jobs to build up its work force, a Huntington Bank executive said during an economic outlook meeting Thursday morning.

While labor pools in Ohio’s three biggest cities have rebounded, those in Toledo and other mid-sized cities remain below where they were before the coronavirus pandemic, and that’s making it hard for local employers to fill vacancies even though wages have risen and the cost of living is low, John Augustine, the bank’s chief investment officer, told the gathering of several dozen people in a downtown Hilton Garden Inn ballroom.

“This is the issue: getting the kids to stay, and getting people to move in,” he said. “We have a high-quality life and low-cost living. We need to tell people about that, because we need people…. We have to let people know how good it is in Toledo and northwest Ohio.”

While competition for workers is “healthy for consumers,” it’s unhealthy for employers and also constrains the supply of customers for businesses that sell goods and services locally, Mr. Augustine said.

Jeff Schaaf, the Toledo Regional Chamber of Commerce’s director of talent strategy, said separately Thursday that targeted recruiting “is the core of what we’re doing with our talent attraction work.”

The chamber’s Toledo Region Talent Connection Portal is designed to identify people who have interacted with any of several social-media platforms who might be interested in moving to the Toledo area and provide them information at regular intervals about opportunities in their career fields as well as about recreational interests they may have.

“They might not be ready to move to Toledo tomorrow,” Mr. Schaaf said, but keeping them up on what’s available here will inform their decision-making when the right time arrives.

And for new arrivals, he added, the chamber then matches them with peers in the community who can assist them in adapting their lives by guiding them toward events and services they may need or be interested in.

Comparable cities have used similar efforts to attract up to 500 people, Mr. Schaaf said, so a reasonable starting goal for Toledo’s effort is 200 to 300.

Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati also are helping themselves by building the service sectors of their economies, while Toledo remains mostly manufacturing, Mr. Augustine said. Diversifying Toledo into services and making it easy to set businesses up here is vital, the 30-year investment veteran said.

Development related to Intel’s Columbus headquarters and several warehousing operations associated with Cincinnati’s airport also are helping those metro areas advance.

“Keep your headquarters here,” Mr. Augustine said. “Headquarters, right or wrong, bring a lot of wealth into the community.”

Overall, Mr. Augustine said, election years are good for the domestic stock markets, and 2024 is starting out no differently in that regard with American indexes at record highs. The one global stock market currently struggling is in China, which is “still struggling getting out of the pandemic, economically.”

While economic forecasters both at the Federal Reserve and in the private sector expected a recession during 2023, that didn’t happen, he said, and now it appears that gross domestic product growth this year will also be higher than the Fed expected a few months ago.

“It’ll be interesting to see what they come up with next week when they update their projections,” Mr. Augustine said.

On the flip side, he said, that means interest rates may not come down as much as previously expected, and while that’s good for bond investors, it’s unfavorable for borrowers — including people who carry credit card debt.

“Consumer spending, that’s what we’re watching — it’s two-thirds of our economy,” the analyst said. “What will consumers do this spring? Higher interest rates are a big headache for credit borrowers and the housing market.”

The two product areas that mean the most to consumers are groceries and gasoline, Mr. Augustine said.

Commodity prices for corn, soy, and wheat have come down, chicken is starting to drop, and beef and hogs are holding their prices, he said in a follow-up interview. And while oil prices have pushed higher of late, Mr. Augustine said the futures market does not believe they will go high enough to push gasoline above a key $4 per gallon threshold unless geopolitical tensions arise that are worse than the current wars in Ukraine and the Middle East.

Low unemployment and a cooling inflation rate mean that the “misery index” — a measure of how ordinary people are affected by the economy that balances employment and consumer prices — is currently low.

Mr. Augustine said that since the term was coined during the 1970s, a low “misery index” in a presidential election year has been good for incumbents. All of the sitting presidents whose re-election bids failed during that half-century, he said, were up against high “misery index” data: Gerald Ford in 1976, Jimmy Carter in 1980, George W. Bush in 1992, and Donald Trump four years ago.

But he predicted government debt will be a campaign issue, as for the first time in 16 years, interest rates are high enough to significantly increase the cost of debt. The current annual interest on the United States’ debt, $950 billion, exceeds the entire Department of Defense budget.

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