Editor's note: This special report on the Union County economy is based on comments made by a panel of community business and government leaders during the Union County Economic Summit meeting on June 24.

Editor's note: This special report on the Union County economy is based on comments made by a panel of community business and government leaders during the Union County Economic Summit meeting on June 24.

While a panel of community business and government leaders agree that the worst of the economic downturn has passed and that there is light at the end of the tunnel, nobody seems certain exactly how long the tunnel is or how bright that light will be.

That was the consensus reached following a two-hour discussion Wednesday night during the Union County Economic Summit Meeting.

The event, sponsored by McCarthy & Cox Retirement & Estate Specialists, LLC, attracted a crowd of more than 100 at the Union County Service Center on London Avenue.

While keynote speaker Josh Feinman, chief global economist with DWS/Deutsche Bank, was unable to attend because of a travel schedule conflict, he appeared via video, delivering a message of optimism about U.S. and world economic conditions.

"After being in a near free-fall in late 2008 and early 2009, economic activity in the U.S. is shifting to a substantially slower rate of decline as the worst of the financial and economic crisis abates," Feinman said.

"We continue to expect a process of stabilization and a gradual recovery of economic activity later this year and into 2010," he said. "But that recovery is likely to be tepid in the early stages and dependent on accommodative monetary and fiscal policies."

Feinman said the economy still faces challenges from the bursting of the housing and credit bubbles that he predicted would weigh on activity well into 2010 if not beyond.

"A number of key indicators suggest the economy has passed the crucial inflection point to a moderately slower rate of descent," he said.

He noted that consumer spending, which collapsed late last year, appears to have stabilized in the first half of 2009.

"Households have made progress in rebuilding depleted savings rates in response to declines in their net worth and tighter credit conditions," he said. "Sharp cutbacks in spending that we saw last fall are less likely to be repeated."

However, Feinman said, as households seek to strengthen their balance sheets even more, a robust rebound in consumption any time soon appears less likely.

On the local front while all of the panelists agreed that the worst of the economic downturn appears to be history, none predicted just how far away a recovery could be or how strong that recovery would be.