Local economy holding up, but future uncertain

Posted 11/20/08

“It has not affected us as far as I can tell now,” said Bob Moore of Metzler and Moore Realty. “It's a little slow, but it typically slows this time of year. We're pretty well sheltered from the national trouble.”

Moore …

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Local economy holding up, but future uncertain


{gallery}11_18_08/blairseconomy{/gallery}Josh Senn (right) bags groceries at Blair's Market on Friday as Leola Anderson waits for a customer to pay. Powell shops remain busy and the local and statewide economies are strong. National economic woes have yet to hit the Cowboy State, but there is an air of uncertainty about the future. Tribune photo by Carla Wensky In the face of a storm of bad economic news nationally, the local economy appears to be holding up, but there is an air of uncertainty about the future.Local banks are not at risk, and real estate prices, while they have leveled off, have not crashed as they have in other areas of the country. Loans are available to people with good credit, and economic activity seems normal. Still, the national economy is a concern, particularly a drop in consumer spending, which accounts for 70 percent of economic activity, and eventually may affect the Powell area. Nationally, retail spending fell 2.8 percent in October and has shown signs of slowing down in Wyoming.Local sources expressed mixed views on the economy locally, but most agree that there may be problems in the future.

“It has not affected us as far as I can tell now,” said Bob Moore of Metzler and Moore Realty. “It's a little slow, but it typically slows this time of year. We're pretty well sheltered from the national trouble.”

Moore said there has been no increase in foreclosures in Powell, but he is concerned about “some dark clouds on the horizon.”

“There's got to be a trickle-down effect somewhere down the road,” he said.

Dan Bennion of Bennion Construction still is busy with construction projects.

“We have a lot of work, as much this fall as any time,” Bennion said recently.

Bennion said the general environment has buyers cautious, but he sees no credit problems.

“If you have a poor credit rating, you won't get (a loan),” Bennion said. “But if your credit is good and you have a job, you shouldn't have any trouble at all.”

As for the future, Bennion said he likes to be optimistic. He has seen down cycles in the past, and he doesn't think the current downturn will be anything like the economy Powell saw in the 1980s, when a number of companies downsized and people left Powell, leaving empty houses on the market.

“We had a lot of nice houses being dumped on the market,” Bennion said. “I don't see that happening now.”

Jeff Martindale, manager at Boedorn Lumber, said business has been fine in recent months.

“We had one of our best months in July, and we beat that in September,” Martindale said.

Recent events have affected consumers, though, Martindale said, and building plans have slowed in recent weeks, so the construction business might be slowing a little.

“Contractors might be a little leery of building spec houses,” he said.

Despite those concerns, though, Martindale said the business is doing very well.

“We're getting ready to do a remodel of our own,” he said.

The national economy has not been a major factor for local car buyers, either, according to Marty Bratt at Garvin Motors. Bratt said the company's sales are holding up, which he credited to the employment situation in Powell.

“We're obviously isolated from the unemployment problem,” Bratt said.

Bratt said Garvin arranges loans through First National, Toyota, and GMAC Financial Services, and has seen only slightly tightened credit.

A major concern for Garvin is the condition of General Motors, which is seeking government help to avoid bankruptcy.

“I don't see them going broke,” Bratt said, “but it certainly makes you wonder. I don't know if government bailouts are going to help.”

Bratt said he does not favor a government bailout of General Motors, and said Garvin is diversified through its Toyota franchise and can survive GM's difficulties.

Three retailers on Bent Street said last week they noted a little slowing in recent weeks, but said it might be normal for this time of year rather than due to the national economy.

“It's been a little slow, but not too extreme,” said Paul Ramos at The Merc. “October was really strong but it's leveled out this month.”

Ramos did note that when he contacts suppliers, he hears about more serious problems outside Wyoming.

“Our suppliers are really feeling the downturn,” Ramos said.

Frank Roling at Discount Appliance said business is a little slower, but that is not unusual during the beet-harvest season, which was delayed by weather this year.

Like Bennion, Roling compared the current economy to that of the 1980s and said he is optimistic that the economy will not be as bad as it was then.

“Wyoming has the lowest unemployment in the U.S.,” Roling said. “Compared to 28 years ago, we've got a terrific economy.”

Bankers in the community say the national slowdown will have a local effect at some point, but the credit crunch will not be the problem.

“Banking locally is stable, and we can take care of our customers,” Richard Nelson of First National Bank and Trust said. “We're very fortunate here because we're conservative and somewhat insulated from the national problems.”

However, the national economy has affected anyone who has equities, and he sees a slowdown in real estate coming, so consumer confidence may suffer.

Speaking to the Cody Club last week, Rich Peterson of Wells Fargo Bank said the banking crisis would have little impact in Cody because most of the loans locally are bank qualified and “still pretty solid.”

Peterson said there has been some slowdown in contracting, “but not dramatic.” Sales of upper-level homes have slowed down, a situation he attributes to the real estate market in other areas.

“The worst is yet to come in the consumer economy,” Peterson said. “There's been a loss of confidence, and it may be long term.”

Nelson, though, expressed optimism and advised folks to “hang in there.”

“Be patient, and be as optimistic as you can,” Nelson said.

The employment situation in Powell looks “pretty good,” he said, “and Wyoming is in as good as shape as anywhere.”

“I believe it will get better,” Nelson said.