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Expert predicts decent holiday sales

November 10, 2004|by JULIE E. GREENE

julieg@herald-mail.com

People spent more money on food and fuel, so there was less to spend at Wal-Mart in August, an economic analyst told business leaders Tuesday night at the Washington County Economic Summit.

Wal-Mart retail sales were just one of many important economic indicators Anirban Basu reviewed with approximately 170 people at the summit held at the Fountain Head Country Club.

Basu is chairman and chief executive officer of Sage Policy Group Inc. in Baltimore. Known for his wit as well as his analysis, Basu does economic and policy analyses for businesses; nonprofits; and local, state and federal government agencies.

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"Many people said back-to-school sales this year were terrible," Basu said. Sales in September improved at the retail giant, he said.

After his presentation, Basu predicted a decent Christmas retail season, but not a fabulous one because people are still skittish about the economy.

For several months, job creation has been shaky, people have been unsettled by the war in Iraq and oil prices are hitting people hard at the gas pumps, leaving them less disposable income for things like Christmas gifts, he said.

Basu told the crowd that Washington County experienced job growth in the leisure and hospitality industry, but manufacturing jobs declined.

Basu said manufacturing jobs should improve in the coming year.

When asked after his presentation why he thought that, Basu mentioned economic development efforts and announcements by manufacturers investing in the area.

Mack Trucks Inc. recently celebrated a $150 million investment by its parent company, Volvo Group, in the plant north of Hagerstown. When Mack spokesman Bob Martin was asked at the event if the investment would mean more jobs, he said job growth is tied to product demand.

Still, a long-term commitment to the area by Mack is good news, Basu said.

Basu also said the county has gotten richer faster than the state as a whole and homes in the county have increased in value more than they have statewide.

Basu predicted interest rates would increase and the housing market would slow. However, he said he predicted that last year and it didn't happen.

The event was co-hosted by the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce and the Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission.

The summit was sponsored by F&M Bank, Hagerstown Trust, Waypoint Bank, First United Bank & Trust, Fidelity Bank, and The First National Bank of Greencastle.

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