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Analyst upbeat on the economy

November 14, 2003|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

Two years ago, the U.S. economy beat expectations by emerging from a national recession just two months after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks.

How did that happen?

"What do you do when you feel down and out? You shop," Anirban Basu told about 170 local business people attending the Washington County Economic Summit at Fountain Head Country Club on Thursday night.

That's just a sampling of Basu's presentation - a mixture of 53 slides of economic data and graphics with some standup comedy mixed in. As chief executive officer of Optimal Solutions Group in Baltimore, Basu said he does economic and policy analyses for businesses; nonprofits; and local, state and federal government agencies.

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Basu was the keynote speaker at the summit, which was co-hosted by the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce and the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission. The Herald-Mail Co. was the event's lead sponsor.

Basu predicted a solid outlook next year for the average Washington County business as more people move into the area and more companies want to locate here.

While the nation has recovered slowly from the 2001 recession, Basu said Washington County pulled off something rather difficult - having its unemployment rate fall while its civilian labor force grew.

Much of Basu's presentation focused on the national economy.

Various consumer surveys reported consumers were filled with angst following the terrorist and anthrax attacks, Basu said.

"They're telling us they don't feel very good about the world and they deal with that in their own special way. They go to Target," Basu said.

"One thing Americans like to do with their angst is buy a home," Basu said.

Other signs the economy is improving are business travel is increasing and the business sector of the U.S. economy is ready to expand because businesses are investing again, Basu said. Businesses have more money to invest because, for the most part, their profits are up, he said.

Basu said he could not deny the possibility of a correction in the U.S. stock markets, but the economy has improved more than expected this year.

Basu said auto sales have increased in recent months and warned parents that it's not world peace or the end of world hunger their children aspire to, but owning a Hummer.

That wasn't the only warning he had for parents.

Today's high school and college graduates will have to compete for jobs in an international market as many jobs, including manufacturing, biostatisticians and financial analysis, are heading overseas where work is cheaper, Basu said.

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