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Farm manager Howard Halderman kicks off discussion while moderator Graig Stettner listens.

Employers upbeat about the outlook

Photos by Swikar Patel | The Journal Gazette
Attendees listen to the outlook panel during the Tower Private Advisors 2012 Fall Economic Forum on Thursday morning at IPFW.

Food prices aren’t likely to skyrocket because of drought conditions. Vehicles are going to continue to become mobile “infotainment” centers. And one of the reasons unemployment remains high is because “people don’t want to work.”

Those were a few of the comments during the Northeast Indiana Economic Outlook Panel discussion Thursday at IPFW. The event, sponsored by Tower Private Advisors of Fort Wayne, drew more than 70 people.

They listened to Howard Halderman, president of Halderman Farm Management; Nick Knappenberger, owner of H&E Machined Specialties; Pete Henry, a vice president with Midwest Pipe & Steel; Sri Bramadesam, president of Autoline Industries; and Tony Reincke, president of Granite Ridge Builders.

Last month, the Labor Department reported food prices are likely to rise in the months ahead as the Midwest drought has made corn, soybeans and other grains more expensive.

But Halderman said some farmers had better yields than expected, so the public shouldn’t push the panic button just yet. He said many growers use genetically modified seed, which was able to produce despite drought stress.

In fact, Henry said, agribusiness is alive and well as “the U.S. is still the leader in agricultural technology.” During the recession many industries were hit hard, but “agriculture really hung in there,” Knappenberger added.

Bramadesam said the automotive business is coming back. Consumers can expect the continued electrification of cars, he said, with hybrid vehicles becoming increasingly common on the assembly lines – and in showrooms.

Vehicles made of composite materials including aluminum, Bramadesam said, will play a major role in coming years as the auto industry looks to make lighter-weight cars and trucks to meet fuel efficiency standards.

During the recession, Reincke said, his company didn’t “look around to see what our competitors were doing.” Instead, Granite Ridge embraced other forms of marketing, such as social networking.

As for unemployment, Knappenberger said some “people don’t want to work” and would rather accept unemployment benefits. Reincke recalled a job candidate he wanted to hire, but the applicant sought the position on his own terms.

“He wanted to start in two months … after his unemployment ran out,” Reincke said. “I said, ‘We need you now.’ ”

Tom Lewandowski is president of the Northeast Indiana Central Labor Council, AFL-CIO. He didn’t attend Thursday’s panel discussion, but wishes he had.

“When an employer says people don’t want to work, they’re not finishing the sentence. What they’re really saying is that people don’t want to work ‘at what I’m willing to pay.’ ”

Lewandowski said most people don’t want to live off jobless benefits but have to figure out whether a position is worth accepting.

“Can they pay for the baby sitter?” he said. “If the job is long-distance and their car needs a new transmission, can they buy one? The fact is, a lot of these jobs are lousy.”