A recession not likely to be major, bank CEO says

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Aug. 5—HIGH POINT — There's probably a better-than-even chance of a recession, but people are too inclined to think it would be a dramatic economic shock, a leading bank president said Thursday at High Point University.

William H. "Bill" Rogers Jr., president and chief executive officer of Truist Financial Corp., made the remarks while being interviewed by HPU President Nido Qubein in front of several hundred people at the Wyndham Championship's Champions Breakfast at the Nido and Mariana Qubein Arena and Conference Center.

When asked whether he thinks the nation is headed for a recession, Rogers said that in the short-term "things look pretty good."

"There's a lot of confusing data," he said.

He echoed comments last week by Federal Reserve Chairman Jerome Powell about continued strong hiring and spending and the high number of advertised job openings, which don't jibe with a recession.

But Rogers said high inflation is changing buying decisions, and the recent two consecutive quarters of declining production historically aligns with a recession.

"I think you can look ahead and say there's a better than 50% chance we'll hit a little bit of a bump in the road," he said.

But it's not likely to be the kind of upheaval that followed the COVID-19-related shutdowns of 2020 or the Great Recession that followed 2008, which dominate the way people think about recessions, he said.

"We all have recency bias," he said. "The average recession lasts about 10 months."

The interview touched on a range of topics, including the merger of BB&T and SunTrust in 2019 to create Truist and the COVID-19 pandemic that hit in 2020.

Rogers said that the pandemic actually helped solidify the corporate culture that former BB&T and former SunTrust executives agreed they wanted.

"The cultural alignment happened faster because of the pandemic," he said.

Speaking to the breakfast audience before Rogers was interviewed, Mike Fox, president of the Piedmont Triad Partnership, highlighted the successes of the Carolina Core. Various government and economic development organizations across a region roughly centered on U.S. 421 from Interstate 77 on the west to Interstate 95 on the east agreed in 2018 to cooperate and market the region as the Carolina Core.

Since then the region has gained 35,000 jobs and seen $5.7 billion in investment at the region's megasite, he said. Since January 2021, there have been announcements of plans for another $8 billion in investment and 19,000 more jobs.

"It's undeniable momentum driven by true teamwork," he said. "But there's still more to do."

North Carolina is one of the four fastest-growing states in the country, but worker shortages are a problem everywhere, and an area's workforce is an important consideration in businesses' site-selection decisions, Fox said.

The Carolina Core has about 30 colleges that have a combined 100,000 students, so there is a solid base of young talent here, and Fox noted a $27.3 million grant announced Wednesday that N.C. A&T State University will get to train workers in 16 counties across the state to qualify for jobs in the clean-energy sector.

But more is needed, especially to fill the ranks of the "C suite," or top corporate executive positions, he said.

To help address that, the PTP plans to launch a marketing campaign intended to convince executive-level workers to seek jobs in central North Carolina, he said. The "More in the Core" campaign will emphasize the various kinds of "lifestyle assets" that the region offers that allow people to "Get more out of life in the Carolina Core," he said.