MANSFIELD — Andrew Thomas knows economic forecasts affect the whole globe.
“We need to remember that the world is not the United States, 75% of business happens elsewhere,” he said. “And what happens out there is going to impact us."
Thomas was the featured speaker at the seventh annual Economic Forecast Breakfast Thursday, which was the relaunch of the event after taking a break for the COVID-19 pandemic.
The breakfast was hosted by the Richland Area Chamber & Economic Development, Destination Mansfield and Richland County Foundation. North Central State College sponsored the breakfast.
Barrett Thomas, director of economic development for the Richland Area Chamber, said he wanted to invite Andrew Thomas to speak because he could illustrate a big picture of different macroeconomic trends and how they each affect each other.
“When I first met him, he talked about paying attention to trendlines, not headlines,” Barrett Thomas said. “You can tell as he’s answering questions, no one knows what the stock market is going to do, and who cares? But longer term trends show we’re in good shape for 20 years from now.”
Andrew Thomas discussed the volatility of short-term markets and suggested everyone build up their rainy day savings to handle potential downturns.
“If the pandemic lockdown didn’t teach us to save on an individual and business level, I don’t know what will,” he said. “The government may eventually come to help, but you’re responsible for yourself for the start.”
Because of supply chain and labor shortages around the country and world, Thomas said 2023 might be a rocky year similar to 2020.
“But if we’re aware of things, we can manage them,” he said. “We can be flexible and we can find solutions, that’s what we do as human beings.”
Before becoming an associate professor of marketing and international business at the University of Akron, Thomas conducted business in more than 120 countries on all seven continents.
A global trend he discussed Wednesday was the diminishing cost benefits to operating businesses in China.
“As someone who did business in China for 10 years, it was no longer cost effective to really manufacture there,” Thomas said. “China is flashing red and it’s not going to get any better. If you have a dependency on China for your product or supply chain, that would be a vulnerability I would certainly take a look at.”
Thomas suggested local manufacturers or any businesses that depend on a Chinese supplier for any products look into partnering with a different country in Asia or Latin America.
He discussed energy crises many countries are experiencing due to trying to use less coal and distancing their economies from natural gas produced in Russia.
“When energy gets to a certain threshold, people just stop doing other things,” Thomas said.
“The American consumer drives our economy still, so I think a big factor for the economy is making sure the consumer can buy stuff and afford to fill up the tank — because even when those things are threatened, it changes behavior.”
For the long-term future, Thomas said the United States’ and Ohio’s economic forecast looks promising.
“The rest of the world may be chaotic, but we’ve been through tough times in northeast Ohio and we survived,” Thomas said. “We’re the rust belt, but I like rust, rust shows that it’s been doing something.”
Also at the economic forecast breakfast:
-- Andrew Thomas warned COVID-19 will continue to affect the labor force. He said “nature will decide when this is over, not humanity.”
-- COVID-19 could contribute to population decline, which Thomas said is opposite of the United Nations’ predicted global growth to 10 billion people within 80 years. He said many business models expect increasing birth rates to sustain innovation, labor force participation and a growing customer base.
-- President of North Central State College Dorey Diab shared data from the Lumina Foundation showing correlation between educational attainment and economic prosperity. He pointed out how counties in Ohio in which 68% of its residents have higher education also have considerably higher median household incomes.
-- Richland Area Chamber Chief Operations Officer Jodie Perry said business owners will have to work together to recruit employees to live, work and invest in Richland County and surrounding areas. She said the county saw modest population growth in 2020 and leaders are working hard to ensure the county continues to grow.