Economist Bill LaFayette says the worst of the recession is behind us, and that while the central Ohio economy suffered through a year of unprecedented job losses in 2009, the outlook for 2010 is brighter.

Economist Bill LaFayette says the worst of the recession is behind us, and that while the central Ohio economy suffered through a year of unprecedented job losses in 2009, the outlook for 2010 is brighter.

"The national economy has begun to recover," LaFayette said. "Virtually every forecast expects this recovery to continue unabated in 2010. The recession is almost certainly over, but we almost certainly won't know that it's over until sometime in 2011."

LaFayette made his comments at a Dec. 17 breakfast meeting at the Columbus Athletic Club, where he previewed the Columbus Area Chamber of Commerce's 11th annual Blue Chip Economic forecast.

The annual forecast is prepared by LaFayette, vice president, economic analysis, of the Columbus chamber; Joseph Mandeville; George Mokrzan, vice president, senior economist, Huntington Bancshares Inc.; and James Newton, chief economic adviser, Commerce National Bank.

"It looks like average Columbus MSA (Metropolitan Statistical Area) employment in 2009 will wind up down about 16,500 jobs or 1.75 percent from where it was in 2008," LaFayette said. "That is the biggest percentage decrease in our employment in a generation."

LaFayette said the region lost 2.3 percent of its jobs in 1982 but the 2009 losses represented the biggest numerical decrease dating back to at least 1964, the earliest year for which he has records.

"I would hazard to guess it was the biggest numerical decrease ever," he said.

LaFayette estimated more than 5-million jobs were lost on the national level in 2009.

"Ohio had the second-worst job market in the nation," he said. "Only Michigan was worse. We were one of only a few states that ended the boom in 2007 with fewer jobs than we had at the end of the prior boom in 2001, but now, although Ohio is doing worse than average, there are 10 or 11 states that are doing worse than we are."

He noted that the number of jobs in Arizona will be down more than 7 percent this year. He said that state has lost 10 percent of its employment since the recession started.

Since the recession began in December 2007, LaFayette said the United States economy has lost 7.2-million jobs (5.2 percent) and that Ohio has lost 623,000 jobs (6 percent). During that same time, the Columbus MSA is down only 2.3 percent.

"Every sector of our (local) economy did better than its national counterpart -- some much better," he said. "So our better-than-average performance was very broad-based, as it has been throughout the course of the recession."

LaFayette said Ohio's major cities have fared relatively well during the recent recession.

"Of Ohio's six largest metros, Toledo is the only one that is doing worse than the state average," he said. "Akron, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Columbus and Dayton are all doing much better than the state average. Columbus is the best of those by far. This implies that the big urban areas are in not nearly as much trouble as the smaller cities and the rural areas."

LaFayette said there is reason to look ahead to 2010.

"The year-over-year employment change should be very slightly positive," he said. "But that minimal change masks an employment turn during the year that should make the second half the best economic environment in three years."

LaFayette will give a detailed presentation on the annual economic forecast to the Columbus Metropolitan Club at a noon luncheon on Jan. 6.