Business

Business leaders optimistic about economy; ‘great recession’ not on the horizon

April 12. By Dave Yochum. The statewide unemployment rate continues to improve, and local business leaders say the Lake Norman economy will improve even faster as more and more businesses reopen.

Bill Russell, CEO of the Lake Norman Chamber, said he expects that all restrictions will be lifted by June 1. 

BILL RUSSELL

“While real estate has been booming during the pandemic, expect our hospitality and retail to begin making a recovery this summer,” Russell said.

The North Carolina unemployment rate fell to 5.7 percent in February, down from 13.5 percent in April and May last year. It’s still ahead of 3.6 percent in February a year ago, but trends are in the right direction due to trillions of dollars in federal stimulus spending.

WalletHub reports that North Carolina ranks third best in lowering unemployment claims over the past year.

Ahead of projections

At Lake Norman Chrysler Jeep Dodge, owner Jack Salzman said business is ahead of what he expected so far in 2021.

JACK SALZMAN

“Our performance in January and February were above our forecast and we see this trend continuing,” he said.

They are hiring in all phases of the operation, including administrative, sales and service, as well as at the Carolina Custom facility in the former Michael Waltrip RaceWorld on Liverpool.

Interestingly, buyers can come from anywhere. The Lake Norman store specializes in Jeep sales and is ranked fifth nationwide in Wrangler sales.

“This naturally leads to buyers from across the country coming to do business with us,” Salzman said, explaining that the current interest rate environment adds fuel to the demand.

Interest rates

Most bankers think rates will “stay pretty flat, says Jim Engel, CEO of Cornelius-based

JIM ENGEL

Aquesta Bank. There have been some small short-term rate increases in the last few weeks. 

“Honestly, nobody really knows but I don’t see rates falling and we may see some modest increases as the pandemic gets behind us,” Engel said.

Trends in auto sales

Inventory is “extremely tight” at this time based on lost production during the early stages of COVID and now the chip shortage. New studies suggest dealers are selling approximately 50 percent of their inventory every month compared to 30 percent prior to 2020.

They’re ramping up certified pre-owned vehicles. Indeed, there’s a new market segment titled “nearly new” vehicles, which means more sales—and more jobs.

Salzman is building a new showroom facility on Chartown Drive. The existing dealership on Torrence Chapel will be devoted to certified used car sales.

It means 75 new jobs for Cornelius.

The Charlotte region is one of the top growth areas in the country, and Lake Norman has been a bright spot during the pandemic.

Residential real estate

Pat Riley, CEO of Allen Tate, said Charlotte and Lake Norman are destined for more growth.

“Collectively we have what the world wants,” he said during a discussion at the Lake Norman Chamber.

PAT RILEY

While he also forecast an increase in interest rates, he said corporate relocations, there’s an influx of parents and grandparents moving here to join family recently relocated here.

It helps drive up real estate prices, which is a two-edged sword. It means the suburbs are less affordable for employees, while homeowners have the equity to help finance home improvements and major purchases.

Riley said two-thirds of Millennials who rent are “determined” to buy a home.

While existing and new home sales fell more than expected during February, it comes off a stunning surge in sales and home prices seen during the second half of 2020.

Wells Fargo economists say stronger economic growth, particularly the roughly 6.8 million jobs added back this year, will more than offset the impact from “modestly higher” mortgage rates.

“Home sales have been disproportionately skewed toward the upper end of the market. Employment among higher-income workers did not fall as hard during the pandemic and recovered much faster. This year will see economic growth broaden and strengthen, which should bring out more home buyers and sellers,” Wells Fargo said.

A major recession is not likely, Riley said. “A great recession won’t happen this time.”

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