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Business Owners, Educators Speculate About 2012′s Economic Environment

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(credit: KTVT/KTXA) Bud Gillett
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DALLAS (CBSDFW.COM) – For many, a new year comes with a promise of a fresh start. Especially among business owners, who interpret an influx of new faces as a reason to expect a promising 12 months.

Meanwhile, educators and experts take a more nuanced look at how global and national matters affect local economic trends.

At the AAmer Café in Richardson, though, owner Malik Alsaad is convinced 2012 will bring more business along with it.

“So far I hope, I hope, that this year will be a lot better than last year,” Alasaad said.

He opened his Greek and Mediterranean restaurant in Richardson in the teeth of the 2008 recession. Considering his revolving cast of customers since the restaurant opened, Alasaad said he feels more people are willing to eat out.

“I have every day new faces,” he said. “Every day new faces, I like it.”

SMU’s Mike Davis, though, has a warning.

“What we should really look for next year is a surprise,” he says.

Davis teaches economics at SMU’s Cox School of Business. He expects a rude international surprise to affect residents in North Texas.

“If any of these trouble spots blow up — whether it’s the Mideast or Europe or someplace we haven’t even thought of –– that will affect us here,” he said. “We are not isolated from the world’s economy.”

Still, he says, that world still beats a pathway to our door through DFW International Airport, putting the region in the eyes of some of the world’s most powerful companies and business people.

“It’s a hugely important economic generator in this economy, it generates jobs directly but also indirectly from people who come here because we have a good airport,” he said.

He added that the airport is an added draw for international businesses wishing to locate in the region  –– a “remarkably good airport for people who want to get anywhere in the world fairly quickly,” Davis says.

He points out DFW is in the geographic center of America, and praises the state’s “fairly limited government,” which bolsters its “pro-business” environment.

And more businesses, Davis believes, leads to more jobs.  He expects a modest increase in home construction. On a grander scale, Dallas’s new Omni Hotel –– built with taxpayer money –– is holding its own.

While the early returns on the Omni are encouraging, Davis is a little worried about the convention industry itself.

“There’s many fewer big conventions and there’s more places competing for those big convention centers,” he said. “We’re swimming against the stream in the whole market.”

One area where he sees need for major improvement is in the field of education. He cites the state’s historically low high school graduation rate –– the country’s 43rd worst, according to the Legislative Budget Board’s 2010 Fact Book –– as a reason why some businesses may choose to locate elsewhere.

“We need to have more kids who are graduating from high school with the kinds of skills they need to succeed,” Davis said. “Not everybody needs a Ph.D in computer science but everybody needs a good foundation in reading and writing and math to succeed.”

Even with his concerns, Davis soon echoed a general consensus present in media coverage of the recession’s impact on the state and, in particular, of it upon the North Texas region: Dallas and Fort Worth is better off than other areas of America.

“I guess I’m born to be a worrier,” he said, “but I’m more optimistic about North Texas and this area than I am a lot of other areas in this country.”

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