BOARDMAN - Trumbull County's unemployment rate in November matched the national rate for the first time in almost two generations, and two area economic experts believe more good news is on the way.
"Banks are seeing gains in deposits because landowners are getting" gas and oil lease money from companies wanting to drill in the Utica Shale, Eric Planey, Regional Chamber vice president for international business attraction, told listeners at the chamber's annual economic breakfast at Mr. Anthony's in Boardman.
The money will allow banks to make more loans to fuel further business growth, especially in the energy industry that Planey and others expect to boom.
With estimates ap-proaching 100 years' supply of natural gas and other energy forms from the Utica, the nation is the closest to energy independence than it's been in decades. In fact, the nation could become an exporter of liquefied national gas and become fully energy independent by 2020 for the first time since 1952, he said.
The energy boom has yet to reach the Mahoning Valley in full force but is moving north from hotbeds in Carroll, Jefferson and other southeastern Ohio counties.
Chamber officials are preparing to welcome energy businesses with their second annual Youngstown Ohio Utica & Natural Gas Conference on Sept. 6. Their first expo in November at the Covelli Centre in downtown Youngstown - and first in the state - attracted about 2,000 visitors.
As the energy boom arrives, experts expect the area's unemployment rate to fall more after months of steady improvement.
Trumbull County matched the national jobless rate in seasonally unadjusted terms at 8.2 percent in November. The county's rate had exceeded the national level as far back as January 1979, when the local rate was 6.9 percent versus the nation's 6.4 percent.
December 1978 saw the county beat the national rate, 5.5 percent compared to 5.7 percent.
Seasonally unadjusted means construction hiring in the spring and holiday hiring in the fall aren't factored into the number. The Ohio Department of Job and Family Services seasonally adjusts state and national rates but not county or city rates.
With nearly 1,000 shale-related jobs already counted, the area stands to benefit from drilling's ripple effect.
Planey said the first wave of employers - exploration and production companies like Chesapeake Energy and CNX Gas Co. called "upstream" business - will be followed by a second wave of "midstream" companies to transport or store pipe, water, gas and other supplies for the drillers.
The third wave, or "downstream" companies, will be operations like the "cracker" plant that Shell Chemical plans to build somewhere near the Ohio River.
The $2 billion plant will crack, or break open, molecules in the natural gas to produce ethylene, which is used to make plastics, fertilizer and a host of other products.
The forecast breakfast's main speaker, First National Bank Chief Investment Officer Jeff Wagner, said it's not usually known how global markets affect areas like the Mahoning Valley.
He said Europe's crisis is pushing the continent toward an economic decline this year of about 1 percent to 1.5 percent. The weakness likely will affect General Motors Co., which employs about 4,500 at its Lordstown Complex., because Europe represents about 21 percent of the world's Gross Domestic Product.
He said the U.S. economy should offset some of that weakness by growing 2.2 percent to 2.5 percent, but said China also is projected to slow to around 8 percent, below general forecasts of 8.5 percent.
Wagner noted the Standard & Poor 500 stock index came in flat for 2011, a performance he said was noteworthy in the face of many uncertainties around the world, including a massive earthquake and tsunami in Japan and the Arab Spring revolts in the oil-rich Middle East.
The nation's housing market, which is stabilizing after several years of deep declines, could be positioned to help the economy, Wagner said.