The fourth annual Hays Economic Outlook Conference was held at Fort Hays State University’s Robbins Center on Friday.

Community leaders, business analysts and business executives were invited to attend the event, which was hosted by the Center for Economic Development and Business Research, Wichita State University and the Ellis County Coalition for Economic Development.

“We wanted to partner with local universities to develop that level of competency and expertise as business professionals and community leaders,” said Jeremy Hill, director of the Center for Economic Development and Business Research.

The gathering provided an opportunity for participants to network over breakfast, while receiving background insight regarding current issues affecting local and state economies.

“We want people to come together and have a discussion of what’s going on in the economy, so they can plan and make sound choices,” Hill said.

Hill spoke first during the conference, and covered topics including national economic conditions, inflation, labor and wages, income and earnings, and global, national and state concerns.

“Kansas happens to be one of the states that has the highest percent of people working more than one job,” he said. “It’s not a concern, necessarily, it’s just the way the structure of our economy has evolved over time.”

Stan Longhofer, director of the Center for Real Estate, highlighted matters including home sales, construction, appreciation and housing forecasts.

“When I’m focusing on housing markets and I forecast housing markets, I look at two foundational levels,” he said. “One is the labor market and the second is financing.”

Longhofer said Kansas employment growth has been disappointing and isn’t growing in a way that is expanding the population.

“Kansas employment growth has been really sluggish,” he said.

From a financing point of view, mortgage rates have been very low over the last several years, according to Longhofer.

As for a housing forecast, Longhofer said he thinks new home construction activity is going to increase about 9 percent statewide.

“We still consider this a very sluggish, low level of construction activity,” he said.

Manager of Express Well Service Tom Casey then took the floor to discuss oil and gas production, the drop in oil prices and the importance of investors.

“We cannot disregard the importance of the investor,” he said. “The industry has slowed down about 75 percent.”

The price of oil has to be high enough for people to want to invest money in wells for drilling, so according to Casey, the price must be higher so people are willing to become involved.

“When the price goes down, there’s nothing there for them to take that risk,” he said.

Jesse Jacobs, FHSU economics instructor, concluded the conference with a discussion regarding the impact of interest rates on the local economy, focusing on price stability, employment growth and farm management.

Jacobs talked about variables that impact exporting agricultural products, like lack of production due to weather, and which products favor better in northwest Kansas, which suffers from drier weather and lower yields.

“For northwest Kansas, Grain Sorghum has made more per bushel than wheat and corn,” he said. “If I was a farmer, maybe that would be the route I would take.”

Overall, the speakers gave those in attendance an understanding of the pros and cons of the current economy, and what will likely come next.

“We wanted to give a better understanding of the issues,” Hill said. “We wanted to reach people who really need the information for developing budgets and for planning for the next year.”