Outlook N.J. on the road to recovery but it’s a long one

//July 31, 2009

Outlook N.J. on the road to recovery but it’s a long one

//July 31, 2009

South Jersey looks to education, health care as paths out of recession.It was a case of good news and bad news Tuesday morning at the Rutgers Quarterly Business Outlook event in Cherry Hill.

The end of the longest and deepest recession in the post-World War II period, and the beginning of a recovery, seem to be in sight, said Herb Taylor, vice president and secretary of the Federal Reserve Bank of Philadelphia.

But the bad news is a “full recovery is likely to take longer than it has in the past,” he said.

A gradual recovery will be built on incremental improvements in four areas, according to Taylor:

— Developments in the housing market, which seems to be finding a bottom, although it will likely still take more price declines to clear out existing excess inventory.

— Financial markets. The sense of panic is beginning to dissipate, and markets are improving, but risk spreads will continue to remain wider.

— Labor markets. Businesses have been “extremely aggressive in cutting payroll,” and won’t start adding jobs until they know the rebound is sustainable. “We have a long way to go on payroll employment.”

— Continuing impact of stimulus funding.

Taylor cited Open Market Committee forecasts that predict job increases will begin in 2010 and growth will accelerate in 2011, with unemployment expected to move down to 8 percent that year.

Job losses in South Jersey mimic national trends, Taylor said. The expected areas for gains in that region also will mirror national trends, with education and health care continuing to be the industries adding jobs.

“Eds and meds, I think, are the growth industries,” Taylor said.

Judith Roman, president and chief executive of Mount Laurel-based AmeriHealth New Jersey, said while the health care system is broken, both nationally and in New Jersey, any reform must include a private insurance component. Health insurance companies spend an average of 88 cents of every dollar paying for the cost of care, she said, while the remaining 12 cents covers operating costs, wellness programs and disease management initiatives.

“Our feet are held to the fire” to offer wellness and other innovative programs, Roman said, noting government programs like Medicare are more unit-cost oriented. “The modest investment is far outweighed by the economic and productivity gains.”

In gaming, Joseph Corbo Jr., vice president and general counsel, Borgata Hotel Casino and Spa, sees a half-full glass despite challenges faced by Atlantic City casinos from the economic downturn and regional competition from Pennsylvania.

Citing the “so-called AIG effect,” Corbo said companies may decide to skip Las Vegas and “do something a little bit less” when business travel increases once the economy picks up, presenting an opportunity for Atlantic City.

He also said Atlantic City uses a different model for gaming by encouraging capital investment through upscale hotel rooms, spas, nightclubs and celebrity chef restaurants, positioning the gaming city as a place to return to. He said properties like Borgata and Harrah’s that have made these types of investments have fared the best in recent years.

Peter Leone, president of Leone Industries, in Bridgeton, noted manufacturing has been “hammered” during the recession, both in New Jersey and nationally.

“This has been the worst period for manufacturing since the Great Depression,” he said. “The good news is, things are getting worse more slowly.”

In New Jersey, one in 10 manufacturing workers have lost their jobs. But the Garden State fares better than the nation with job losses, with pharmaceutical and medical manufacturing cushioning the blow somewhat, Leone said.

The quarterly event is presented by Rutgers School of Business — Camden and co-sponsored by the Chamber of Commerce of Southern New Jersey and Flaster Greenberg.

E-mail Sharon Waters at [email protected]
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