It was another successful year for Chicago's largest commercial real estate event. More than 850 professionals packed the room at the Chicago Marriott.
Michael Miller of DePaul University opened the event with an economic forecast. He summed up 2011 with a simple statement: Ho-Hum.
He noted that there will be growth, but that it's pace will be too slow to create any noticeable difference in the overall economy. If GDP growth maintains its current pace, it will not create enough new jobs to both accommodate the currently unemployed and those entering the job market for the first time. At its current rate, less than 3 percent, it is only creating enough jobs to match the number of workers entering the labor pool each month.
In contrast, the deep recession of 1981 and 1982 experienced robust GDP growth of 7-9 percent for numerous quarters once the recovery began. All signs point to a much more muted recovery from the most recent recession.
He did mention that the recent tax increases for corporations and individual incomes passed by the state of Illinois will only hinder the recovery process. Although there is no evidence to prove this at the state level, Miller noted that data shows tax increases at the federal level in the past have damaged economic growth.
Not all of the panelists agreed with Miller's lukewarm assessment of economic potential for 2011.
Bruce Duncan, CEO of First Industrial Realty Trust, noted in the headline panel that the stock market has experienced significant growth in the past year. He takes this as a sign that companies are very profitable and that pent up demand will find its way into the market this year through corporate spending and expansion.
Participants in the Financing and Investment Outlook panel were more optimistic as well, saying that multiple forms of capital were once again active in the market and that the appetite for investment deals had decidedly increased.
Gregory Warsek of Associated Bank said that his firm was planning to deploy $500 million in commercial real estate lending beginning this year.