CEO Roundtable: Economic sky’s not falling but uncertainty reigns

BOULDER — In early 2023, one thing is certain: When it comes to the economy, uncertainty is the prevailing feeling among Boulder area business leaders.

As the economic tide of the post-COVID-19 era recedes and signs of a slowdown in the coming year mount, “everybody’s being cautious,” Gardner Financial LLC principal Kate Gardner said at BizWest’s CEO Roundtable on the Economy held Wednesday at the Boulder offices of Berg Hill Greenleaf Ruscitti LLP.

Coming off strong growth in late 2022, Rich Wobbekind, faculty director and senior economist at the Business Research Division of the University of Colorado Leeds School of Business, is projecting 2023 gross domestic product growth to slow to around 2.5%.

“We’re in slowdown mode,” he said, but a deep recession could still be averted. 

Unlike the economic collapse following the COVID-19 outbreak, the 2023 slowdown is likely to be one of a more traditional variety, which Boulder businesses have successfully weathered many times before, Boulder Economic Council executive director Scott Sternberg said. 

Boulder area business leaders are not alone in their uncertainty — the phenomenon is nationwide. In fact, “we are competitively still strong,” compared to many regions of the state and country, Broomfield director of economic vitality Jeff Romine said. 

Despite the ongoing strength of certain economic indicators, business leaders are “not sure if we should be pumping the brakes hard, and just tapping them slightly,” Creative Alignments CEO Peggy Shell said.

Cautiousness is already impacting spending decisions across sectors.

“Customers we’ve had for 30 or 40 years used to have an open checkbook” but are being more judicious in their spending, CLI Services Inc. general manager Chris Frank said.

With interest rates on the rise and work-from-home issues yet to be resolved for many firms, question marks abound within the real estate industry, on both  the commercial and residential sides of the sector. 

“A lot of companies are paralyzed in making decisions about real estate,” Dean Callan & Co. CEO Becky Gamble said.

On the commercial side, owners of office space are struggling, while retail and flex-industrial landlords are relatively well positioned, she said. 

The residential market has cooled some with interest rate raises, but there’s no reason to panic, said Todd Gullette, managing broker of ReMax of Boulder.

“Sure it’s a little harder to buy here, but where else would you rather put your money?” he said.

Part of the Boulder area’s competitive advantage remains its high quality of life.

“Why are we here?” Pedestrian Shops owner Richard Polk asked. “Because it’s excellent.”

Business leaders, he said, must play a role in crafting and implementing public policy that helps maintain that excellence, he said.

Source: BizWest

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