Walden, award winners highlight Chamber meeting

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PITTSBORO — The Chatham Chamber of Commerce held its annual meeting last Tuesday, closing out 2022 with a series of awards and presentations.

As community business leaders took their seats around the Chatham County Agriculture & Conference Center, Cindy Poindexter, president and CEO of the Chatham, welcomed economist Michael Walden, who shared his thoughts about the 2023 economic forecast for Chatham County and the surrounding Triangle and Triad area.

“Right now we’re in a challenging situation,” Walden said, referencing the economic turmoil seen both nationally and in North Carolina over recent years. “[Since COVID struck] we’ve come back in terms of production and employment, with unemployment now back down at 3.7 percent, but we are now faced with another challenge, and that is inflation.”

Walden, a retired N.C. State professor and author, spoke on the rise of prices throughout the nation, climbing at rates not seen in 40 years. He did, however, remain hopeful.

“We think we’re a little past the peak,” he said, mentioning June’s year-over-year inflation rate of 9.1%, which dropped to 7.7% by October.

“And where did this come from?” Walden asked the room. “In economics, everything is supply and demand. We’ve obviously had supply chain issues, unable to meet rates seen pre-COVID. But the other factor is on the buying side.”

Walden said more than a trillion dollars rested in a variety of savings and investment accounts across the country, held by households and there only “because of the massive amount of spending that the government has pushed over the last few years.”

Walden said that although many people have a lot of money now to spend, products to buy simply aren’t there — directly contributing in the rise in prices.

Over the last three years, the Trump and Biden administrations have combined to spend more than $5.5 trillion on COVID relief programs.

“We have never spent that much money dealing with a crisis,” Walden said, “even going back to the Great Depression.”

Walden projected that the Federal Reserve will aim to slow spending by raising interest rates in order to ultimately bring inflation back down to 2%.

“This is known in the business as a soft landing,” he went on to explain. “A soft landing means that the Reserve will be able to raise interest rates, pull money out of the economy just enough to slow spending down, but not enough that it causes a recession.

“Now that’s not a very rosy scenario, but that’s what I think will happen,” he added. “[And no,] I don’t think we have been in a recession, but we could certainly head towards one.”

Walden felt optimistic that although North Carolina may not be capable of avoiding a recession, should one come, he felt strongly that recovery will likely be faster here in the Triangle and Triad region — due primarily to our capacity for rapid growth.

“I can’t think of a better place to go through a recession than here,” he said.

The meeting moved into a series of awards presentations, recognizing outstanding businesses and individuals throughout the county. Those recognized included:

• Small Business of the Year winner Van 2 Auto Sales, Siler City, and owners Dimas & Elva Benitez

• Distinguished Business Person of the Year winner Amanda Newton of Farm Bureau, Pittsboro

• Citizen and Service Person of the Year Award winner Marie Hopper of Hopper Cummings PLLC

• Young Professional of the Year Award winner Connolly Walker of Harris & Company Insurance

• Ambassador of the Year Award winner Ronda Stubbs of Cambridge Hills Assisted Living in Pittsboro.

Chamber board Chairperson Sharon Dickens announced several advancements in the Chamber’s marketing and public relations efforts, as well as a slew of new events set for the coming years.

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