Numbers back up local perception about reports of economic recession

By ED MERRIMAN, Baker City Herald December 01, 2008 02:06 pm

Media reports citing recession have risen to unprecedented volume during past three years

Baker County business owners criticized the national media last week for a barrage of reports which some contend is contributing to a decline in consumer and business confidence, and deepening the recession.

 Numbers compiled from a Google Internet search for the words “economic recession” lend credence to the concerns raised by Baker City business owners Marilyn Shollenberger of Marilyn’s Music; Denzil Robbins of Robbins Farm Equipment; Ted Hausotter of Natural Structures; Ryan Chaves of Kicks Sports Wear; and others, including Jake Jacobs, business retention specialist with the Baker City and County economic development staff.

Jacobs said national media reports and political commentary about the roller-coaster stock market, credit crunch and home foreclosure crisis hitting some parts of the country don’t reflect what’s happening in Baker City or Baker County.

“So much of the stock market is emotionally driven versus reflections of actual value change,” Jacobs said. “Times will change and one must think positive. Look at the gas price crisis, it is nearly over.

“Once again, when times appear down, that’s the best time to build infrastructure and plan for the upswings,” Jacobs said. “We have two small companies considering relocating to Baker in the spring and their plans have not changed.”

Jacobs recommends Baker-area entrepreneurs keep their eyes open for values in the short term, while viewing the recession from a long-term perspective.

“As when landing an airplane, the pilot does not look 5 feet ahead of the aircraft. Instead, he focuses on the far end of the runway to keep things in perspective.  Baker City needs to do the same. ... Farsighted and with plenty of peripheral vision.”

The Google search shows a dramatic and unprecedented surge in articles citing economic recession for the past three years.

Throughout the last four presidencies, dating back to 1980, the number of articles per year containing the words economic recession ranged from 129,000 to 557,000, with the exception of six years where the number topped 1 million.

Those six years include 2006 (3.2 million articles), 2007 (3.3 million) and 2008 (9.9 million through the end of November).

That three-year total of 16.4 million articles eclipses any previous recessionary periods.

Jacobs said media coverage often fails to recognize that local conditions vary dramatically from national trends.

“I think we are somewhat buffered from both upswings and downswings in Baker City,” Jacobs said. “Without many large employers in the area we don’t see large hiring programs or large layoff events. Small businesses need to hunker down a bit, but to be more aggressive on marketing and sales.”

Ted Hausotter, an owner of Natural Structures in Baker City, said he believes the excessive media coverage and political commentary about the recession is undermining business and consumer confidence.

“I’m just a simple guy trying to make water slides and pavilions. I’ve decided I’m not going to let all the negative coverage affect what we do,” Hausotter said. “There is plenty of opportunity out there right now for businesses that produce the best products and provide the best service.

“Give the customer what he wants, how he wants, and as long as we do that, we’ll miss the recession,” Hausotter said.

“The media says the economy is bad so frequently you start believing it, whether it’s true or not,” said Ken Gross, manager of Home Furnishing Liquidators in Baker City.

He said business owners and consumers can get depressed by all the negative media coverage or they can take a positive attitude and look to the future.

“We will get though this and move on. Everybody in business will probably have a stronger business plan when it’s over, and will be better able to meet their needs and the needs of their customers,” Gross said.

Ryan Chaves, an owner of Kicks Sports Wear in Baker City, said he doesn’t buy into the dire economic troubles frequently reported by the national media over the past couple of years.

“I see no indication of a downturn from the way this store is going,” Chaves said.

Instead of focusing on national coverage of the recession, Chaves suggests business owners focus on sprucing up their businesses and stocking items people want.

The increase in media references to recession during the current economic downturn far outpaces such trends during previous recessions.

For instance, the number of articles containing the words economic recession increased from 129,000 in 1998 to 1,460,000 in 1999, when free-trade agreements and logging restrictions contributed to recessions in the agriculture and timber industries, which first hit rural areas.

The number then dropped to 240,000 in the last year of the Clinton presidency in 2000 before soaring to 1.9 million in 2001, the first year of the George W. Bush presidency, when the recession deepened following the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks.

In 2002 and 2003, even though that recession was at its peak nationwide, the number of articles containing the words economic recession dropped to 220,000 and 239,000, respectively.