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Retail expected to fuel local economic growth

The Lawton area's economic recovery should continue this year with improvement in retail sales and unemployment, an economist told a group of business people Thursday.

Mark Snead, president of RegionTrack, was one of the featured speakers for the Lawton-Fort Sill Economic Development Corporation's first-ever luncheon and said Lawton should see moderate growth this year led by "solid recovery" in the private sector.

Snead, who has studied the Lawton economy for several years, said Lawton remains on a unique economic cycle that's not in line with the state and national economies. From early 2007 to early 2010, he said, Base Realignment and Closing expansions at Fort Sill added nearly 3,000 net new civilian jobs to the economy even as the national economy was in recession. That came to an end in 2010, he said, as federal cutbacks compounded private-sector weakness brought on by the national recession.

But he said clear signs of a rebound emerged in 2013: Private-sector employment picked up steam in 2013 and state government employment also rose. Wage growth jumped 7.4 percent last year, and retail sales declines appeared to have bottomed out.

At the same time, he said, it appears military employment  both soldiers and civilians  has stabilized and the population has continued to grow, albeit slowly.

His outlook is that civilian wage and salary jobs will rise 1.4 percent this year and the jobless rate will fall to about 5.3 percent, down from 6.3 percent in December. All in all, he said, 2014 should be a "pretty good year."

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