PHOENIX-Economic indicators in Arizona are a mixed lot of good and bad signs, but overall the state’s economy is in good shape and isn’t headed toward any kind of recession, according to a recently released study.

There are some very positive signs at the mid-year point–population gains are higher than expected and personal income is very strong. But, there are also negative indicators, with job growth lower than projected, according to data published in the summer issue of Arizona’s Economy, put out by the Eller College of Business and Public Administration at the University of Arizona.

“We still expect below-average growth, but no recession, for the foreseeable future, as the ‘bubble’ economy of a year ago deflates and things get back to ‘normal,’” says Marshall Vest, forecasting project director.

The Bureau of Economic Analysis’ latest numbers show personal income up by 9.1% in 2000, a higher gain than most economic predictions. Forecasters have called for a 6.5% gain in personal income for this year and a 5.9% increase in 2002.

The US Census Bureau found Arizona’s population growth had exceeded even the most optimistic expectations, but a state study says the federal number fell short by 250,000 residents. Arizona’s population now stands at 5.13 million, up from about 3.7 million at the start of the 1990s. The state grew by 40% during the 1990s, second in growth only to Nevada.

Job growth in 2000 actually tallied 3.9% instead of the 4.4% that had been projected. It is the first downward revision since 1997. Among the industries revised downward are trade, from 3.5% growth to 3.1%, and finance, insurance and real estate, from 4.7% to 2.9%. The construction industry has bucked the slowing trend. “Amazingly, the construction industry currently leads all other sectors on the basis of job growth,” Vest says. “One reason construction employment continues to grow is that commercial construction is booming.”

Approximately $4 billion in commercial projects had been awarded in the past year, a figure that’s a third higher than the number seen in the booming early 1980s, Vest says. Big projects that should keep the commercial sector hopping, include new stadiums for professional hockey and football teams, $1 billion in state spending for school improvements and more than 20 electric generation plant projects, which have a value of $1.8 billion.

There are 165,000 construction workers in Arizona, an all-time high, up 5.7% from a year ago, Vest says. But that number could decline in the coming months, primarily due to the residential sector, if job prospects don’t improve.

“It is important to keep in perspective that a year ago the economy was flying high, so current comparisons to year ago figures look weak,” Vest says. “All in all, the economy is in no worse shape than experienced during the slowdown of 1996, a period from which the economy recovered nicely.

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