Uncertainty was the theme at chamber luncheon


By Ryan Berry


GREENVILLE — There is going to be some economic uncertainty throughout 2023 was the prediction of Darke County Dave. The hog with a penchant for predicting the economic future made his prediction at the annual Darke County Chamber of Commerce Groundhog Day Luncheon on Friday, Feb. 3. Several other prognosticators in a variety of areas of the economy concurred with Darke County Dave, including Bill Lee and Dan Douglas with Dayton REALTORs, Mark Wright with Financial Achievement Services, inc., Bethany Menke of Midmark and Matt Aultman with the Darke County Commission and Darke County Farm Bureau.

Lee is seeing a leveling in housing sales. The inventory of houses available from an average of 6,500 houses a month to 1,225. He believes communities need to build more housing because the announcement Intel and Honda’s EV factory will be moving into Ohio. Although this area may not see a direct impact from those jobs, Douglas shared the state believes eight jobs will be recreated throughout the state for every job at these plants.

Douglas, governmental affairs director for Dayton REALTORs, said the housing market is dealing with inflation and an increase in interest rates. Previously, agents were able to sell houses within a week of going on the listing. Now, the houses are staying a little longer. During the height of the boom, sellers were seeing five to six offers. Those offers have reduced to a normal level of two to three.

He doesn’t believe this is a big tank in housing sales, but is a leveling in the housing market. Even with a hike in interest rates, he believes rates are still low. The 30-year average is 7.2 percent. He explained in one of the better periods for housing markets, interest rates were 17 percent.

Douglas does believe the government should act on a senate bill, Neighborhood Homes Investment Act that would help revitalize the housing stock. The bill would use tax credits to help rehabilitate blighted housing.

He did warn against governments wanting to enact Source of Income legislation. He believes this would disrupt the rental market and would force landlords into those programs. It would result in fewer rentals available.

Wright discussed a possible recession and the state of the economy and how it affects investments. He said, “There are about as many opinions about the economy as there are economists.” Because of the pandemic, Wright said the government had to produce liquidity in the market, which caused the federal interest rate to plummet to near zero percent. Since then, the Federal Reserve Bank has raised rates eight times to the current rate of 4.75 percent. They are hoping this will help fight inflation and stabilize prices.

He said the Fed is starting to see Fed is seeing disinflation with the growth rate slowing down. He warned that we are not out of the woods yet because this could create a lot of uncertainty and the markets do not like uncertainty. “I know small businesses do not like uncertainty. It is important to watch because on any little news piece the market is going to react. Volatility in the market is something to watch.” He also warned it could get worse before it gets better.

Menke addressed the hiring situation in the county and what employers may need to do. She said Darke County has a lot of great things going for it when it comes to attracting employees and businesses. She pointed to the Midwest work ethic, safety of the community, good schools, great parks and downtown area, as well as multiple employers looking to hire and the relationships businesses have with the schools.

Darke County currently has a 3.1 percent unemployment rate, which translates to a little over 1,000 people available to work. “Where are these people and why are they not knocking on my door,” she asked? With the way the system works, she explained people can be looking for a job without looking for a job.

Although Darke County is adding to its employment rolls, big companies throughout the nation continue to announce layoffs. Darke County recently lost 100 jobs when Norcold closed its plant in Gettysburg. Menke believes there is some instability in the workplace. Plus the turnover rate in certain industries means employers are competing for the same people.

While working remote tends to benefit some people, it isn’t always feasible, especially in Darke County where the top 10 employers are manufacturing, healthcare or trucking.

Menke believes employers need to be flexible and treat their employees well. She encouraged businesses to help create a better work/life balance.

Aultman shared information as to where agriculture is heading in 2023. He said he has heard a lot of comments in regards to his predictions last year and how they were wrong. “It’s amazing what a Ukrainian war, drought, overseas markets and part and supplies can do for a market,” he said.

However, 2022 was one of Darke County’s best agricultural years in the past 20 because the “market was there for us, production was there for us – late rains, early rains – it was dry, but we still did great as a county.” How good did the county do? The county overtook Mercer County as the number one agricultural producing county in the state.

While most markets are about the same as they were last year at this time, Aultman was concerned with the price of eggs. He sees this as one state dictating to the other 49 states on how they should conduct business. California requires eggs coming into the state be cage free. Last year, the average egg price was $2.10 and this year it is $3.89. It hit as high as $4.25 in December. There are lawsuits at the federal level the will review the policies of states affecting interstate commerce.

Although the Farm Bill will expire this fall, Aultman doesn’t believe a new bill will be approved this year. He expects the government will “kick it down the road a year.” He said there are big portions of the bill that will be political including SNAP and work requirements.

He would like to see the U.S. find alternative markets for grains. Brazil is on the verge of becoming a major playing with corn and soybeans. He believes they could eventually become a leader.

Farmers continue to have issues finding equipment and parts. He said he recently purchased a 3-D printer that will allow him to print some of the parts he needs.

He believes farmers will also have to face new regulations on nutrient water management in the near future as well as face additional scrutiny on septic systems.

Aultman believes the cost for ground is going to be interesting – the need for new housing and industrial development could continue to keep the prices rising. He said the cheapest piece of ground north of State Route 47 recently went for $17,000 acre. When he bought is farm 10 years ago, south of State Route 47 was $6,300 acre.

At the conclusion of the luncheon, chamber directors honored Peggy Emerson for her work as its president. She recently announced she was leaving the chamber to head to Fairfield to become their chamber president.

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