Saturday, September 23, 2023

Otterbourg’s hits and misses in 2017

I don’t want to say I told you so, but I told you so. Two years ago, I wrote that Duke Energy was going to try to recover much of its coal-ash remediation costs through the rate-making process. Lots of people said no way. But that effort is in full swing. Duke won’t get all it wants, but it will get enough. I don’t want to pay more to keep my lights on, but there’s a small part of me that feels the slightest bit happy at being right. But no parades just yet. Predictions are fun, but accountability is important, so let’s recount my mistakes, both in print and in thought.

The Dow: Like President Donald Trump (pre-election), I thought the stock market was in an unsustainable bubble. I was wrong. It gained 25% through mid-December. Until interest rates rise, that’s where the money gets parked, plumping up our pension funds and 401(k)s. It makes everybody think investing is easy. It is, until it isn’t.

Gas prices: Still under $2.50. I thought they would be over $3. Cheap gas puts more money in our pockets and helps Detroit keep selling autos. But it’s also driving public policy in perverse ways and, eventually, we will pay dearly.

New governor: I expected more spit and vinegar from Roy Cooper. It seems that he has accepted the transformation of the governor’s office from the executive branch to the executive twig.

Cardinal Innovations Healthcare: I thought this managed-care entity would ride out criticism of its well-publicized gaffes, mainly because running mental-health programs for 850,000 people (mostly on Medicaid) is a thankless job. I was wrong. The state took over Cardinal’s management. Not quite the dog catching the bus and wondering what now, but close to it.

Looking back is never as much fun as looking forward, so here are my predictions for the year ahead:

Amazon: Not here. Probably Atlanta or northern Virginia or Texas. It’s nothing personal, just business. In any case, Amazon is now everywhere, and its next big target is furniture.

The big auto plant: This looks like a go at the megasite south of Greensboro. It’s not just Alabama’s Roy Moore silliness that tipped the balance. Throwing money at Mazda and Toyota may be the one thing N.C. Republicans and Democrats can agree on.

Politics: Finally, we’ll have new legislative districts. It can only help Democrats and perhaps give Cooper the ability to veto the occasional bill, but until blue voters migrate en masse to redder areas, a Democratic majority is hard to imagine.

Retail: This is the year of reckoning for Sears Holdings and Macy’s, two of the mainstays in malls across America and North Carolina. Neither can survive in its present form. Macy’s goes first. It’s now just a real-estate play.

Maybe your predictions are different. Maybe you expect fewer traffic jams in Charlotte and the Triangle. But I think we all know better. One more reason to be thankful Amazon looked elsewhere.

Ken Otterbourg
Ken Otterbourg
Ken Otterbourg is a writer who lives in Winston-Salem.

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