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Commerce Bank to hold economic conference

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by Paul Flemming

SBJ Staff

Commerce Bank will hold its Economic Conference '98 Oct. 29, featuring Dr. William Freund as its speaker. Freund was the chief economist for the New York Stock Exchange for 18 years.

This is the 28th annual event for the area Commerce Bank.

"I think he's going to be bullish on equities," said Bob Hammerschmidt Jr., president and CEO of Commerce here. Freund is now chief economist emeritus for the exchange and the NYSE professor of economics at Pace University's Graduate School of Business in New York City. In addition, Freund is managing director of the Center for the Study of Equity Markets.

In connection with the conference, Commerce conducted a survey of business and civic leaders, as it has in past years. The bank received 221 responses to its 31-question survey, a response rate of 24.6 to those it mailed out. This year's results revealed uncertainty about the economy, concern about Asian financial markets, and support for increased funding of local education.

Commerce presents the survey results as a snapshot of local opinion, not a scientifically valid poll. The questions concern issues facing the Springfield area and change from year to year, though some questions carry over.

Those repeated questions, particularly about the national and local economic outlook, reflect "a little more pessimism from the previous year," Hammerschmidt said.

Of those who responded to the survey, 44 percent said they expect the national economy to be worse in 1999. Last year's survey showed 11.5 percent of respondents expected a worse economy in the year ahead.

About 49 percent of those surveyed said they expect turmoil in Asian economies to have a significant impact on their companies.

"It's surprising to me," Hammerschmidt said. "I think people are saying, 'What is this Asian contagion and what does it mean for me?'"

He said that Commerce surveyed its own customers, which survey showed a few companies that rely on Asian imported parts and goods, but the overall dependence on Asia is low. "The diversity of this market ... will protect at least this local market," Hammerschmidt said.

For the local economy, respondents were more sanguine. About 65 percent surveyed expect Springfield's 1999 business conditions to be about the same as now. About 22 percent think conditions will be less favorable in the coming year.

Questioned about the upcoming election on an increased property tax levy for Ozarks Technical Community College, about 52 percent said they would vote in favor of the increase.

A question regarding Springfield Public Schools indicated support for a tax-levy increase smaller than the proposal that failed earlier this year. About 65 percent responded they would support a smaller increase that would pay for immediate needs of continuing to hire quality teachers and maintaining neighborhood schools.

Hammerschmidt said a smaller tax-increase request and "a little better PR on the school district's part" would result in greater support of increased funding.

The invitation-only conference is to be held at the University Plaza Hotel. Freund's topic will address "What's Ahead for Business and the Financial Markets."

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