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Slow economic rebound seen

Pair of forecasts predict job gains will be modest

The economic recovery is on the horizon, but it will take four years or longer to erase the stain of the recession, an economist and a marketing professional told business and community leaders Friday in Spokane.

“I’m reasonably, vaguely optimistic” the Inland Northwest is headed into a recovery, said Grant Forsyth, professor of economics at Eastern Washington University.

This will be a modest year of employment growth, Forsyth predicted. The unemployment rate in the Spokane area will remain around 9 percent through 2010, he said.

The region also can expect little wage growth this year, he told a gathering hosted by Greater Spokane Incorporated at The Davenport Hotel.

Forsyth said the economy here is turning around, but he estimated it will take until summer 2013 to reach the employment peak seen in March 2008.

He also predicts consumer spending will continue to be conservative this year, but said retail activity should pick up in the third and fourth quarters.

Shaun O’L. Higgins, director of sales and marketing for The Spokesman-Review, shared a similar assessment.

“I think we found the path out of the woods, but it will be a slow, uphill walk to reach the previous heights,” Higgins said.

While the Spokane area continues to struggle with job growth, the community benefits from lower job loss rates than the state and nation, as well as good wages, home value retention and population growth, Higgins said.

He also touted a positive sign in home sales: Spokane County residential sales in the first quarter were up 23 percent over the first quarter of 2009.

But Forsyth noted that residential and commercial construction will remain weak the rest of the year. Homebuyers need to reduce the inventory of homes – about 2,900 were for sale in the first quarter – before building picks up again, he said.