Gross metropolitan product in the Charlotte-Gastonia-Rock Hill region is expected to grow 2.9 percent this year, up from 2.8 percent in 2011, according to the report from research firm IHS Global Insight, prepared for the U.S. Conference of Mayors.
That’s faster than the 1.8 percent average growth predicted for U.S. metro areas this year, suggesting economic recovery will remain sluggish. But in a sign of progress, the study predicts economic growth from 300 of the nation’s 363 metro areas, up from 267 in 2011.
“This report clearly shows that economic recovery is improving slowly, but surely,” said Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, who serves as president of the nonpartisan mayors group, which released the report during its summer leadership meeting.
Overall, the report found that the U.S. economy is improving as unemployment rates fall, payrolls expand and incomes rise. More regional economies, too, are seeing employment levels return to their pre-recession levels and their housing markets stabilize, it found.
The recovery has yet to “shift into high gear,” the report said, citing continued trouble in Europe, which is affecting consumer confidence, exports and financial markets in the U.S., among other hurdles.
But falling gas prices are offering a needed boost to household budgets and will likely continue to do so, the report said. The IHS study predicted the average price of gasoline will fall to $3.11 per gallon by the fourth quarter.
Meanwhile, more companies in the U.S. are ramping up hiring, due largely to growth in some metropolitan areas, the report found.
Those regions are critical to the nation’s overall economic picture, with nearly 90 percent of the country’s wages and more than 90 percent of its overall economic growth concentrated there.
Fifty metro areas around the country are expected to achieve real economic growth of 3 percent or more this year. Odessa, Texas, and Bismarck, N.D., will be among the fastest-growing metros, with expected growth of more than 7 percent due to robust natural resources activity.
The Charlotte region’s projected growth marks a dramatic turnaround from the recession: From 2008 to 2010, the area’s economy contracted 0.7 percent, the report found. The metro area is expected to continue to grow, with the report predicting a 2.7 percent economic expansion in 2013.
As their economies recover, metro areas will also continue to experience population growth, the IHS study found. It projects U.S. metro areas’ population will grow by nearly a third in the next 30 years, adding more than 84 million people.
Population is expected to grow by more than 50 percent in 59 metro areas, including Charlotte, which could see a 65 percent surge by 2042, the report found.
The mayors conference warned Thursday that aggressive investment in transportation infrastructure is necessary as those regions grow to ward off higher commuting expenses for consumers and businesses – and to move the U.S. economic recovery forward.
“We need to hear from the presidential candidates about their plan to make America competitive and increase our market share in the global economy,” Mesa, Ariz., Mayor Scott Smith, vice president of the group, said. “… In this era of tight budgets in both Washington and our cities, we must make smart, strategic investments that further our goals to increase economic growth and job creation.