Panelists provide predictions for the year ahead

Economist Michael Knetter is forecasting the national gross domestic product (GDP) to grow by 3 percent in 2014.

Knetter, president of the University of Wisconsin Foundation, issued his macroeconomic projections for the year ahead to an audience of more than 500 people at the Northern Trust Economic Trends Breakfast presented by BizTimes Media at the Italian Community Center in Milwaukee today.

Knetter projects the national unemployment rate to dip to 6.3 percent in 2014.

A panel of four company presidents also gave their predictions for the year ahead in business.

Tim Ferry, president of InSinkErator in Racine, said his company expects national housing starts to rise 15 percent and existing home prices to rise 6.2 percent in 2014.

Ferry said his company is partnering with technical colleges to attempt to solve its skilled trades gap. He also cited a shortage of engineers.

Steve Laughlin, chief executive officer of Laughlin Constable, Milwaukee, predicted accelerated technology growth as mobile telecommunications and marketing skyrocket in 2014. He also cited the emerging trends of 3D printing and the local field-to-table food chain.

Katherine Gehl, president of Gehl Foods Inc. in West Bend, said she is “not bullish, but optimistic” about the direction the nation is headed economically. She urged leaders to share their corporate growth with their workforce and invest in their human talent.

“It is important for as the company succeeds, employees succeed,” said Gehl, who noted that Wisconsin has the fifth-largest food-and-beverage (FAB) employment in the nation.

Gehl predicted the growing importance of nutrigenomics, the study of the effects of foods on gene expressions.

Sue Marks, CEO of Pinstripe & Ochre House, said human talent is a competitive, sustainable advantage for enlightened companies.

Marks urged employers to “fail forward, hire higher and fire faster.”

Full interviews with the panelists and a vast array of economic data, surveys and analysis will be featured in the Economic Trends special report in the Jan. 20 issue of BizTimes Milwaukee magazine.

Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes.

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