How does 2001 look to the business community in Brookings-Harbor?

Stable in fishing. Modest growth in tourism. Optimistic in retailing. Ten percent growth in real estate sales. Lots of success in high tech. And still looking for solutions in health care.

Those were the assessments offered by the Local Industries Panel Tuesday for 140 participants in the fourth annual Business Outlook Conference.

What I suspect were going to have is not going to be a recession, but slower growth, said keynote speaker John Mitchell, a regional economist for U.S. Bank. Its going to feel different.

Overall, Mitchell played down the dire predictions of the media by outlining the extraordinary long-term growth of the U.S. economy. But he did acknowledge slower growth. Weve been spoiled, Mitchell said, but slower growth is not the same thing as a decline.

Clearly enjoying the intrigue of current economic situations, Mitchell tried to tie together the national, state and Curry County economic trends.

This is one of those times where you have a sense something special is happening, he said. I have never seen such a rapid shift as weve seen in the last couple months.

Weve basically been growing for 18 years, with an eight-month period of mild downturn, he continued. Half of the U.S. population has no memory of anything approaching a severe recession.

Dragging on the economy are monetary policies, energy markets, the downtown in equities, and something he called animal spirits, the natural tendencies to of people to save or spend.

I think about it as a race: the potential policy changes vs. those dampeners that are out there.

The downturn in Oregons economic growth is more apparent, Mitchell said, and started three years ago. He attributes Oregons dependence on manufacturing as the weakness in the states economy.

The most apparent short-term result will be faced by the Oregon Legislature as it tries to balance the state budget against income tax revenue that is not rising as fast as it has in the past decade.

Curry County, Mitchell said, has a fascinating niche economy with sensitivities based in forest products, lily bulbs and retirees.

According to one study, Mitchell said, one-third of rural counties in the U.S. had 75 percent of the economic gains in recent years. Key to the successful counties were being attractive places to live, having a significant number of retirees, having government installations, and good transportation links.

In the new electronic economy, Mitchell said, what becomes critical is the telecommunications structure. Youve got to have the telecommunications links because there are interesting opportunities there.

The local representatives based their forecasts in individual segments of the area economy.

Ralph Brown, a commercial fisherman and member of the Pacific Fisheries Management Council, said the individual fisheries have mixed outlooks, providing very low-key, but very stable forecast for the overall industry. Crab is less than expected but matches average catch. Shrimp could net a little more income than usual. Salmon and groundfish are not facing any major changes. More new small fisheries are being established.

Genie Gilliam, chair of the Brookings-Harbor Chamber of Commerce Marketing and Promotions Committee, said modest tourism growth is forecast statewide. The local operators are predicting at or slightly better levels than last year, she said, but of course its all dependent on the weather and gas prices.

Ron Schiff, chief executive officer of the Emporium chain, said Brookings was one of six stores opened last year, with three or four more expected this year. Brookings was an opportunity, he said of the chance to take over a closing location for Stage. We felt the community was under-retailed. We didnt think this community was being served. If the economy does slow, Schiff said, the Emporium strategy will be to fight hard and advertise more.

J.B. White, president of the Curry County Board of Realtors, ran through 10 factors affecting real estate, and forecast a lot of positive influences. There were $70 million in property sales in southern Curry County last year, he reported, and forecast a 10 percent growth in that figure.

Wayland Bruns, now majority shareholder of CompanionLink Software, said local high-tech firms forecast combined gross sales of $50 million in 2001, up from $36 million in 2000 and $22 million in 1999. More importantly, he noted, the local industry has matured to where some workers are moving between companies. High tech is providing employment choices, something new and very exciting for our area.

Gerry Livingston, a member of the Improved Medical Access Committee, said the community continues to export health care dollars out of the area. While the committee has applied for federal funds to help address health care access issues, she said the group will continue to seek solutions whether or not the grant is awarded. Its a long process, she said. Were going to have to grow that change.

In welcoming the conference, Mayor Bob Hagbom announced county approval of the final urban growth boundary issues. Were going to grow, but were going to program our growth, he said.

In opening the conference, Chamber President Richard Gyuro issued a challenge and a call to action to participants. How can we harness this horsepower into a strong economic engine toward strong managed economic development in Curry County?

The fourth annual Business Outlook Conference was organized by Les Cohen of the Brookings-Harbor Chamber of Commerce, Lee Musser of Musser and Associates, Nancy Shute of Dawson House Designs, Southwestern Oregon Community College, and Charles Kocher of the Curry Coastal Pilot.