ATLANTA - When Donald Ratajczak delivered his last economic forecast Thursday, it was considerably more optimistic than his first, presented 27 years ago.
He was right in 1973 when he predicted a recession. And he said he hopes his projection Thursday of continued prosperity for the next 18 months is on target, too, because this time he's betting his own money.
As director of what has become the Economic Forecasting Center at Georgia State University in Atlanta, Dr. Ratajczak has earned a national reputation for calling the direction of the local and regional economies. National publications quote him, and he is frequently in demand to speak to audiences throughout the country. He advises the Georgia General Assembly and Congress.
In June, he is retiring from the university, though, for the transition from economic observer to participant. He won't disclose all of his plans, but he did announce that he will run a so-called "angel fund," which invests in small companies with the potential for huge growth. The fund also plans to manage 401(k) retirement-plan money for clients.
"Don has done a great deal to make people aware, not only of what's going on in the short-term economic horizon, but also about the dynamics of what promotes economic development over the long run," said Bobbi McCrackin, spokeswoman for the Atlanta Federal Reserve Bank. "He's also made a significant contribution to the thinking and the debate on what public-policy measures are required to achieve economic growth in Atlanta, in Georgia and in the Southeast."
During his tenure, Dr. Ratajczak has seen the nature of the economy shift dramatically from the traditional boom-and-bust cycles to the current 109-month expansion - the longest in modern economic history. He admits that the complex forces of the "new economy" have made the job of forecasters tougher because indicators such as rock-bottom unemployment, rising labor costs and record consumer debt no longer signal inflation or recession.
"Yeah, it's a little bit hard to explain," he said.
The university hasn't yet found anyone to fill Dr. Ratajczak's shoes. The staff of the forecasting center will continue to issue quarterly predictions based on models he helped develop, but no one has been named to deliver the briefing to reporters and executives who pay for the four presentations each year.
"He has served the state of Georgia extremely well. We are certainly going to miss his contribution," said Joseph Greene, finance professor at Augusta State University. "As an economist you've got to be able to forecast gross domestic production and work force size, and Dr. Ratajczak has been very accurate at that. His models have served him well."
Reach Walter C. Jones at (404) 589-8424 or firstname.lastname@example.org.