Financial expert David Jones is optimistic about the American economy.
A former economist for the Federal Reserve Bank, Jones delivered his message to an audience of mostly business owners in Estero last week.
"In 2012, the best game in town is the U.S. economy and stock market," he said.
"Europe is sliding into a mild recession. Non-Japan Asian markets are cooling off. In the United States, we are showing some sustainable growth.
"Just today, housing stocks were up. Unemployment numbers are down. We're finally seeing job market growth."
Jones was this year's featured speaker for the W. Thomas Howard Lecture Series hosted by Florida Gulf Coast University. He spoke to an invite-only crowd of approximately 200 at the Grandézza Country Club.
The presentation covered everything from the debt crisis to how Greece has an influence over American retirement accounts to the need for a strong Federal Reserve.
"These types of evenings are exactly what universities do for communities," said FGCU Provost Ronald Toll.
"They bring in top-caliber, internationally known people to talk about issues that are important locally, nationally and internationally. Tonight was emblematic of that."
Widely considered one of the foremost experts in the country on the global economy, Jones has been a regular commentator on CNBC, CNN, PBS and Fox News. He is also an executive professor of economics and finance at FGCU.
He told the audience he is a "glass half-full kind of guy" and predicted the U.S economy would grow 2 percent this year, and 3 percent in 2013.
"Although it's slow, we're at least accelerating. The greatest quality this country has is its entrepreneurial spirit," said Jones. "We can reinvent ourselves, but we need to slow regulation and turn our focus to the energy sector."
Overregulation by the government was a topic discussed multiple times by both the audience and Jones.
"Banking regulations have been brutal," he said. "Some regulation was necessary, but not to this extent. Congress has overreacted."
The discussion of regulation segued to a question asked by Carol Conway, owner of CRS Technology in Naples.
"Small businesses still fuel the economy today, you mentioned that there were 343 new regulations imposed on banking, I'm curious on your perspective on banks starting to lend to small businesses again?"
"You could not have asked a better question," Jones responded. "The key to our economy is small business. They create the jobs, and the key is for them to be able to get the loan. How many small businesses finance themselves by borrowing on their mortgage? Bad mortgage loans have caused banks to be more cautious in lending to businesses."
Jones also said community banks are showing some willingness to lend to small businesses, but that it is still not enough.
"I'm a small business owner and I've been in a position where I have self-funded my company for many years," Conway said afterward.
"My original start came from tapping equity in my home in order to fuel the growth of my business. I'm pleased to say 19 years later we're still in business. But without banks being willing to lend money to fuel additional growth, it pretty much handcuffs us."
Jones concluded the speech by saying if the United States is to "reinvent itself" it would start in the energy sector.
"This can be done with hydraulic fracturing for natural gas, and through finding oil, and green energy is also part of it," he said. "We have the potential to be energy self-sufficient within five years."
The W. Thomas Howard Lecture Series has become a signature event for FGCU. The family of the late Tommy and Mary Frances Howard support the lecture series. Thomas Howard was a successful businessman, at one time serving as president and chief executive officer of First Federal Savings and Loan Association.
University President Wilson Bradshaw noted that there were only 30 people at the first lecture 15 years ago when it was held on the campus of Edison State College.
"Tommy Howard advocated so strongly for the presence of Florida Gulf Coast University," Bradshaw said.
"He knew the importance of a regional, comprehensive university to the economic, social and cultural vitality of our region. Because of the continued support of the Howard family, this is what the series has evolved into."