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Al's column

by Al Wahnon

OPTIMISM: As industries continue to report better profits and add new jobs, economists are optimistic about prospects for growth this year, but they still expect the recovery to be slow. In a recent survey by the National Association for Business Economics, 70% believe the Gross Domestic Product (GDP) will grow by more than 2% this year, up from 61% polled in January. And 24% are predicting real GDP will grow by more than 3% in 2010, up from 14% earlier this year. This bodes well for business. William Strauss, a senior economist at the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago, agrees: “After more than two years of job losses, job creation increased in the first quarter of 2010, suggesting a better outlook for hiring over the next six months.”

MORE CHEER: It may be a whisper rather than a shout, but there is a modest sign that the housing market is moving toward more normal conditions: the pace of home building is finally showing activity after being moribund for so long. The Census Bureau reported last week that housing starts in March rose 1.6% to a seasonally adjusted annual rate of 626,000. It was the third consecutive monthly increase, and better than analysts had been predicting. The rate is now 31% above the record low set last April. No big deal, but the housing industry is moving in the right direction after being bogged down for so long and being a millstone around the neck of the economy.

EARLY BIRD: Surfaces 2011 is 10 months away—Jan. 24 to 27—but if you plan for it early, you can save money. Online lodging reservations can be made now until May 15 at hanleywoodhousing.com, and attendees and exhibitors can take advantage of deeply discounted “early bird” rates. Surfaces will take place at Mandalay Bay Convention Center and the contiguous Mandalay Bay Resort & Casino is offering rates as low as $169 per night. Luxor Hotel & Casino, adjacent to the Mandalay and walking distance, has rates starting at $70 a night. Excalibur Hotel & Casino features rates starting at $50 per night and has a tram to the Mandalay available. There are many more such bargains, so log on or call 800.895.3978.

NEWS MAKER: Werner Braun, president of the Carpet & Rug Institute (CRI), has begun writing a series of articles on the activities of the carpet industry that will appear every Friday in the Daily Citizen. In his first column in the Dalton newspaper, Braun discusses a major issue facing the industry: the notion that asthma and allergies are aggravated by carpets “because of its propensity to serve as a holding place for all the allergens brought into the house.” CRI pushed for a clinical study of the problem and after much hard work, an appropriation of $1.2 million was set aside for the study at Emory University in Atlanta; the money was given through the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Center for Disease Control (CDC). The study, which began in 2005, is now complete and is being analyzed and summarized and will be published soon. When that happens, you’ll hear about it. Like Fios, this is big.

GOOD SIGN: There are subtle indicators that the economy may have hit bottom and is rebounding—slightly and slowly. The National Wood Flooring Association (NWFA) reported strong attendance at its recent 2010 Wood Flooring Expo & Education Conference. There were 2,544 in attendance, 237 exhibitors and 414 booths. The CRI attracted 60 industry professionals to its annual CRI West meeting. CRI president, Werner Braun, was so impressed, he commented, “representatives from all of the West Coast carpet mills attended. It was one of the best crowds ever.”