Simply put, Bill LaFayette is bullish about the Columbus economy in 2018.

Lifted by low unemployment numbers, rosy consumer confidence and a steamrolling stock market, the local economy should mirror that of the national economy during the next 12 months, said LaFayette, owner of Regionomics, an economic-analysis firm based in south Columbus.

"The national economy affects us," he said, "and things are looking pretty good."

Of course, "There are always concerns," LaFayette said.

Geopolitical upheaval, unforeseen financial calamities and increasing domestic political polarization could undermine consumer confidence and spending, he said.

A tax-reform package passed by Republicans and signed Dec. 20 by President Donald Trump will have economic ramifications, but how they will be felt in the long term isn't clear, LaFayette said.

Democrats are far more skeptical of the bill, which could cause members of the party to pull back on spending, he said.

The retail business economy, however, continues to languish, LaFayette said.

Since the recovery from the Great Recession began in 2010, retail locally has increased 3.3 percent, compared to 9.9 percent -- or three times as much -- nationally, LaFayette said.

That means the 8,800 jobs created locally would have been 26,000 jobs if central Ohio was on par with the national average, he said.

"I was puzzled by it because our population growth has been so good and retail serves a local market," LaFayette said.

"When I dug into the numbers more deeply, I saw there were several subsectors of the retail economy that were (lagging)."

For example, between 2010 and 2016, growth in drug stores was up 5.3 percent nationally; locally, it was down 0.5 percent, LaFayette said.

Yet, Columbus is poised to reap the benefits of a growing technology base, particularly warehouses of stored technology, led by blue-chip firms such as Amazon and Google, LaFayette said.

Other aspects of the tech economy that could be positive for the area include venture capitalists looking to sink money into the region.

That, he said, is more of a long-term goal.

"There's a trend toward distance medicine and education," he said.

"Given our tremendous infrastructure, there's no reason we can't be a net supplier of that information."

Unemployment is getting to levels considered "full employment" at 3 to 4 percent.

That presents opportunities for workers and challenges for employers, LaFayette said.

A pervasive problem across the state is the lack of personal, or "soft," skills: the ability to communicate, good customer service and appropriate interaction between co-workers and colleagues.

"As the unemployment rates decline, those concerns are coming to the fore," he said.

Chris Boring, a local retail consultant, agreed with LaFayette on his overall upbeat outlook for the next year.

Boring said e-commerce is changing the climate of retail as more people order merchandise online.

"I think all the signs are looking really positive for 2018," he said.

"It's not that retail is suffering; it's just going through a lot of changes."

gseman@thisweeknews.com

@ThisWeekGary