Beyond the Build

Continuing Education

Beyond the Gates: Community and Economics


For the last nine years, I have spent the second weekend of my year at the Sewanee–The University of the South, participating in a solid program called Beyond the Gates. About 30 of us spend two days visiting with seniors, sharing what to expect in the job market, how to get a job and how their life will change in their brave, new post-college world.

This year, the keynote speaker was  Maryetta Anschutz, a 1997 Sewanee graduate and ordained minister who founded The Episcopal School of Los Angeles, a wonderful initiative which blends financially-able families with others in the community. Another highlight was visiting with Mack Brothers of IHS Economics and my friend of 9 years. Mack shared his thoughts on the economy at present and what he sees going forward. A few quick takeaways:

  1. Consumer spending is trending up. In the third quarter of 2013, real GDP growth was revised up to a solid 4.1%. This impacted final sales growth to 2.6%., and the improvement can be linked to greater consumer spending. Fourth quarter 2013 reports are expected to show real personal consumption expenditures growing at a faster annual rate than 3 years ago.
  2. Investments look healthy. “Secular stagnation” is a condition where there is persistently too much savings and too little investment. While there was a fear of this happening after financial crisis, it does not seem to be the case in the U.S. Experts are calling it a “long adjustment” period.
  3. Equipment investment is growing. Spending is expected to almost double to 7% in 2014 vs. 3% in 2013. Information equipment and automobiles should see the largest increase.
  4. Housing starts are up. Expecting about 1.16 million in 2014. This is lower than the heady days of the middle of the last decade, but much improved over recent years. Stricter mortgage rules are a major contributor to the conservatism.
  5. Oil is stable. Barring any world crisis, prices per barrel should remain in the $99 to $108 range.
  6. Unprecedented opportunity. There are tremendous opportunities for young people because of  delay retirement during the Recession. A disproportionately large number of people will be leaving the workforce in the next 5-10 years, opening the door for new talent.

From the bright young students to the public and private sector leaders, I always leave feeling like I received more than I gave.

Merrill Stewart Jr.

Merrill Stewart is Founder and CEO of The Stewart/Perry Company, a commercial building contractor based in Birmingham.