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Expert calls pessimism about Utah and world economies unfounded

SANDY — Jeff Thredgold acknowledges he's a "realistic but optimistic" economist, and his descriptions of the Utah, U.S. and global economies on Friday were chock full of positives.

Speaking at the Workplace Learning and Performance Conference hosted by the Utah Chapter of the American Society for Training and Development, Thredgold said bookstores are full of books that are negative about the nation's economy, but he scoffs at that.

"It's either the coming economic collapse, the coming debt crisis, the coming dollar crisis, the coming deficit crisis, the decline of America and the rise of China. I don't think that way, I don't speak that way, I don't write that way. I try to say that I'm realistic but optimistic," said Thredgold, president of Salt Lake-based Thredgold Economic Associates, economic consultant to Zions Bankcorp. and author of the recently published book "econAmeric: Why the American Economy is Alive and Well ... And What That Means to Your Wallet."

He believes the U.S. economy has only a 1-in-3 chance of a recession in the coming months. Despite high energy prices and Fed interest-rate tightening — which typically can trigger recessions — the economy "continues to do reasonably well."

Inflation remains under control due to several factors and the Fed might opt to keep interest rates at its current levels when its Open Market Committee meets Oct. 31, he said.

In a broader sense, the country's economy a dozen years ago was "a bloated dinosaur," but what followed was "downsizing, rightsizing, capsizing and dumbsizing," he said.

"What emerged from that process is what in recent years has been a powerful, innovative, flexible, dynamic, imaginative economies in the world," Thredgold said. "The U.S. role of dominance in the global economy the last 10 years has been as clear-cut as any time since the 1950s."

There will be seven "critical" industries in the future — technology, transportation, telecommunications, financial services, energy, entertainment and biomedicine — and all "find the U.S. in a major position." And baby boomers will fuel health care, financing planning and leisure/recreation, which he called three "guaranteed" growth industries during the next three decades.

At the top of the national economy is Utah, which he called "the single strongest" economy in the country. The state's 2.6 percent unemployment rate and 55,000 net new jobs in the past 12 months are major factors, although he told the crowd of training personnel that companies will continue to have trouble filling open positions.

"It's going to get worse. That makes your job more important. I'd make the case that the HR, the training, the work force development process in coming years will be more important than ever before because of the extraordinarily low, slow growth in the labor pool," he said.

Thredgold described the world economy as "dynamite."

"The global economy is rock-solid, impressive, almost from A to Z," he said, noting that after-inflation growth this year will be nearly 5 percent. That would be the fifth straight year of growth of at least 4 percent.

"We've not seen that sustained performance from the global economy since the early 1970s. And we benefit in the state, we benefit in this country from strong global economic performance."

Thredgold also spoke about the enormous opportunities for the world in the future. He noted that more than half the adults in the world have never made a phone call, there are relatively few college graduates, people are living longer, computers are getting faster, fiber capacity is huge and people have tapped only 10 percent of the Internet's capabilities.

"An incredible future awaits us," he said.