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Conference looks at economic trends on several levels

Economic trends at the local, state, national and world levels were the focus of the Regional Economic Outlook Conference held at Emporia State University on Tuesday.

University economics professor Rob Catlett says Lyon County faces several economic challenges when compared to the rest of Kansas, including a higher percentage of students on free lunches, a poverty rate that is double the state average and the availability of jobs.

Jeremy Hill, the director of Wichita State's Center for Economic Development and Business Research, said employers have to be patient because workers may not have the skill sets they need to be successful, while employees need to consider retraining options so they are better prepared for the changing workplace. Catlett agrees, but he also says workers have to be flexible.

Emporia has roughly 84 percent of its high school students graduate and nearly 24 percent obtain bachelor's degrees, below the state averages of 90 and 30 percent, respectively. Nearly a quarter of the county population is below the poverty line, well above the 13 percent state average, and Emporia's median household income of $35,100 is significantly lower than the state average of nearly $51,000. Catlett says those numbers do not reflect the people who work in Emporia or Lyon County but live outside the county lines.

Looking at national trends, Hill says businesses are more focused on the actual future bottom line than they have been in the past, saying businesses are getting away from potential growth sectors. He also says the business climate is akin to the late 1970s but is more fluid, so businesses may have to change their human resources practices.

About 30 people attended the conference, which included in-person presentations and taped interviews with regional economic leaders.

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