Illawarra Regional Information Service executive director Simon Pomfret had some good news to share about the local economy during yesterday's annual IRIS Economic Outlook Lunch.
Mr Pomfret used the opportunity in front of 180 Illawarra business and civic leaders to release the findings of the latest IRIS-AVC Illawarra Business Survey conducted just before the federal election.
"The local economy is still weak in terms of trading conditions, as has been the case for some time, but we can take heart from the last couple of months' results," he said.
"There has been an improvement in the last quarter and they [businesses] expect the December quarter to be good. That didn't happen last year."
Looking at the results sector by sector, Mr Pomfret said they were patchy.
Indicators for the financial, property and business services sector were more positive but manufacturing was still flat and showing little sign of growth.
Mr Pomfret was surprised the construction and transport sector was still fairly flat despite the activity that could be seen in construction around the city.
There was some improvement in the retail and recreation sector during the last quarter but most of the improvement was in the services sector.
On the employment front, businesses were still putting more people off than on "but the size of the job cuts are starting to abate".
But Mr Pomfret said there were still no signs of huge employment growth and the unemployment rate was still tracking up.
He said consumer sentiment had remained flat throughout the year despite cuts in interest rates but "property is starting to move at the moment in the region ... particularly in the low to medium end of the market".
The greatest interest in the property market was from investors.
The other good news was that building approvals were starting to rise and that was creating a steady increase in building activity.
"I hope that continues because that is a very important sector in this region," Mr Pomfret said.
"We are also starting to see the result of economic stimulus in non-residential and commercial building activity following the global financial crisis."
Mr Pomfret said the development approvals granted a couple of years ago were now emerging, with more retail, health and education-related developments starting to appear.
"I think that is a reassuring sign. It is just a matter of confidence building. I think 2014 should be a better year than 2013."