COLUMBUS, Ohio — Dr. Charlie Hall is sometimes referred to as Dr. Silver Lining because of his long-term optimistic view of the industry’s future. Perhaps it’s just as accurate (certainly more descriptive) to refer to him as Dr. Economic Indicators.
Few people in the green industry track and attempt to predict the economic health of the green industry as assiduously as Dr. Hall, Professor & Ellison Chair, Department of Horticultural Sciences, Texas A&M University. His focus is the nursery and landscape segments of the industry.
In an hour-long keynote address at the recent 2016 Central Environmental Nursery Trade Show (CENTS), Dr. Charlie Hall parsed a list of government and industry sources seeking relevant data to forecast the industry’s future—short-term and longer-term. Several thousand nursery and landscape pros attend CENTS, the large trade show and educational conference organized and promoted by the Ohio Nursery & Landscape Association as the “Midwest’s Premiere Green Industry Convention.”
In a nutshell, Hall sees continued growth, albeit modest growth, for U.S. nurseries and landscape professionals for the next couple of years. But he urges company owners to remain vigilant and build flexibility into their firms because there will be some bumps, and perhaps a serious bump, somewhere into the industry’s foreseeable future.
“I can tell you with some certainty that the next economic downturn will be within the next decade from now,” said Hall, likely “somewhere in the neighborhood of 2018.” He tempered his prediction by adding that the next economic slowdown won’t be as deep or damaging as the 2008-2009 economic debacle.
“The same factors are not in play today,” he said in reference to the bursting of the sub-prime housing bubble that fueled the Great Recession. Today, he said the U.S. economy “resembles a plow horse rather than a race horse,” which, he said, is encouraging.
“We’re not in a situation where many of our assets are over-valued. Perhaps we learned our lesson or maybe it is luck of circumstances,” he mused aloud.
Hall keeps a close eye on four big indicators in attempting to forecast what might be next for owners of nurseries and landscape service companies. His primary indicators include: data on employment, industrial production, real sales and real income. The first three indicators remain on a growth trajectory. Only industrial production is lagging, he said.
Hall opined that Washington D.C. is a large part of the reason why the economy is not as robust as it should be. This is especially true concerning the industry’s (and the country’s) labor problems.
“We can’t find enough people. That’s a political issue because we can’t find a way to pass comprehensive immigration reform,” said Hall. He added that he doesn’t see the U.S. economy growing substantially without reform.
On the positive side, Hall said housing continues to creep upward with about 1.1 million new housing starts this year. While this is still below the long-term average of 1.5 million starts per year, it’s but encouraging nonetheless. This is especially true in some markets, especially if you zero down to specific zip codes. That’s how spotty the recovery has been across the United States.
Hall predicted continued low fuel prices in 2016 thanks to the rapid supply growth in the United States and slowing demand in China and other emerging markets. Indeed, he doesn’t see much inflation in the U.S. economy, in general.
But, perhaps most encouraging for the green industry business owners are the indicators that show how U.S. consumers spend their money. Consumer spending accounts for slightly more than 70 percent of U.S. GDP.
“Retail sales are higher now than in 2007,” said Hall. “We’re spending more now than we did before the Great Recession. As long as we keep spending we will see some growth.”
Hall advised his audience at CENTS to remain aware of the some of the key economic indicators (housing starts, retail sales, job growth, etc.), and consumer activity in their particular markets. Conditions will change. They always change. It’s just a matter of time.
Owners should ask themselves “what economic and real estate market indicators should I be tracking to help gain perspective on where my market is heading?” advised Hall.
“What predetermined cycle strategies should I have on my play sheet ready to deploy at the right moment, instead of deciding in the heat of the battle?”
Yes, there will be economic hiccups that challenge the industry in the years (perhaps even months) to come. Even so, Hall, true to his Dr. Silver Lining nickname says the industry, although pruned and chastened by the Great Recession, has a much brighter future ahead.
He predicted the industry (nurseries and service providers) will benefit greatly as it becomes more skilled and efficient at marketing and providing consumers’ with properties that are both beautiful but also offer measurable environmental benefits.
Read more: Charlie Hall Named 2016 Farwest Show Keynote Speaker from American Nurseryman Magazine