At 2019 Economic Forum, forecaster sees risk but has optimism

MILWAUKEE — There’s some risk, but the U.S. economy is strong and could weather the current worldwide storm, according to a top economic forecaster.

He made the prediction as others are cautioning that an economic downturn could be on the horizon, if only because the last recession was a long time ago by economics standards. It was a decade ago.

Jason Schenker made his remarks as keynote speaker at Milwaukee Jewish Federation’s 2019 Economic Forum. Bloomberg News has ranked Schenker first in the world for his forecast accuracy in 25 categories, including the euro, the British pound, U.S. new home sales and U.S. jobs.

A sold-out crowd attended the luncheon at The Pfister Hotel, 424 E. Wisconsin Ave., Milwaukee, on Oct. 29, 2019. This year’s Economic Forum event marked seven years of “straight talk” about the national and Milwaukee-area economy.

“While our mission is to take care of the needs of the Jewish community and build a vibrant Jewish future, we know that cannot happen without a strong, vibrant Milwaukee,” Miryam Rosenzweig, president and CEO of Milwaukee Jewish Federation, told the audience of businesspeople. 

After the event, Rosenzweig said it was “humbling to be in the room with local business leaders, including many of the great philanthropists of the Milwaukee area. When business and philanthropy work together, the results are the strength we see in today’s Milwaukee. We can envision a strong future together.”

The welcoming hosts of the event included Moshe Katz, board chair of Milwaukee Jewish Federation; Linda Gorens-Levey, partner of General Capital Group; David Lubar, president and CEO of Lubar & Co; Greg Marcus, president & CEO of Marcus Corp.; and Rosenzweig. Linda Gorens-Levey, Lubar and Marcus were all co-chairs of the event, along with Allan “Bud” Selig, commissioner emeritus of Major League Baseball.

Though Schenker told the room that “the global economy isn’t growing much right now,” he expressed some optimism for the U.S. economy.

“Our economy is the strongest in the developed world,” he said. “The consumer is very, very strong and that is 70 percent of the economy.”

Locally, we may see more international interest akin to Foxconn, he said. “Everyone’s trying to get their tech manufacturing out of China fast,” he said.

The reasoning is twofold: The prospect of both tariffs against China and the management of Chinese security issues. The number of Chinese patents for quantum computing has outstripped American efforts, Schenker said, and this “is just one of the areas that has become a national security issue.” He foresees the U.S. government taking such security issues seriously.

Several panelists joined Schenker on stage. They were Joel Brennan, secretary of the Wisconsin Department of Administration; Peggy Coakley, president and CEO of Coakley Brothers and Brothers Interiors; and Kevin Zaba, group executive and platform president at Rexnord.

Panelists discussed the challenge of finding workers in Wisconsin, an issue that has been coming up at similar economic events in Wisconsin for years. There was discussion of working harder than ever to embrace diversity and using technology to reduce the need for the human workers that can’t be found. Talk turned to recruiting inmates upon release from prison.

Brennan said Milwaukee’s best path will be leveraging the assets already here.

“Milwaukee is not going to be the next Austin,” he said. “We need to figure out how we can be the best Milwaukee.”

Moderator Mike Gousha, distinguished fellow in law and public policy at Marquette University Law School, asked how much politics play into the panelists’ business plans.

“Blue or red, we still make green,” Coakley said. “I think you have to put the noise aside and focus on what’s right for your organization.”