Forecast says: Economy not so on-the-rocks; 2013 offers hope for Coachella Valley

On April 11, CMC’s Inland Empire Center hosted the Coachella Valley Economic Forecast Conference in Indian Wells. The event was sponsored by both the Lowe and the Rose Institutes at CMC. Set against a background of slopes baking in the Southern California sun, economists, healthcare experts, lawyers, and real estate developers discussed health and wealth forecasts for the Greater Palm Springs area.

The conference debuted with a panel of economists. Among them was Manfred Keil, professor of economics for the Robert Day School. In his presentation,“The Empire’s New Groove,” Keil explained that, “what comes down must come up,” signaling a hopefulness about future prospects. Using GDP estimates and other data analysis that he developed with the support of Lowe research assistant Adam Parower, a junior at Harvey Mudd College, Keil demonstrated there are signs of ‘thawing.’ In his view, the freeze brought on by the recession is loosening its grip and that spring, not winter, is coming.

Jerry Nickelsburg, an economist from UCLA, also was optimistic, but inserted a warning. Although the “bifurcated economy” of faster coastal vs. slower inland recovery is likely to continue, in his view, jobs are coming back. California was third for job-growth in the nation for 2012, he stated optimistically. On the other hand, Nicklesburg reminded the audience that “the average time between recessions is five and a half years.” With progressive tax legislation going into effect, namely Proposition 30, he is concerned that reliance on this source of federal income could be dangerous if a recession hits the economy before the effects of the tax subside.

Next was a panel on the projected impact of the Affordable Care Act (ACA) on healthcare in the Coachella Valley area. Carolyn Caldwell, head of the Desert Regional Medical Center, remarked that attracting and developing qualified primary care doctors in particular––the so-called ‘quarterbacks’ of the equation––is crucial. In addition, panelists expressed their support for private efforts, such as the Clinton Global Initiative, which work with companies to invest in employee health and well-being.

The final group of experts fleshed out the current and future prospects for the Greater Palm Springs area as a business, convention, and tourist destination. The panelists expressed that the main obstacle moving forward is minimizing the length of the ‘shoulder season,’ or off-season. Their strategy involves creating a better experience for visitors by coordinated investments in advertising, infrastructure, transportation, and the surrounding community. Among the panelists were Scott White, president and CEO of the Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, and Thomas Nolan, executive director of the Palm Springs International Airport. Both delved into how providing a quality experience is the best form of ensuring that the area continues to grow as a prime destination.

The accuracy of the panelists’ analyses will be determined by events of the following months. Overall, however, in light of the devastation that the economic downturn caused in the area, the experts' sanguine observations were welcome.

Shortly after the conference, Robert Lowe, chairman and co-founder of the Lowe Institute, and one of the conference’s moderators, offered his impression of the event. The annual conference, he says, provides “great publicity for Claremont McKenna College, and also stimulates discussion about political economy in the Inland Empire.” The impressive attendance at the conference was indicative of both its relevance and ability to encourage this dialogue.

Two CMC juniors involved with the Lowe Institute (Alexandra Sloves '14 and myself, Faith Hanna ’14), were invited to attend and help out with the event. Sloves, who works closely with professor Keil, observed that the audience was diverse and engaged in the panel discussions. Both of us look forward to seeing how the forecasts play out over the coming months.