Economists to Discuss Outlook for 2024 at 30th Business Forecast Luncheon

Mervin Jebaraj, 2023 Business Forecast Luncheon
December 12 , 2023  |  By Lori McLemore

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A panel of three distinguished economists will address the regional, national and international outlook for the coming year at the 30th annual Business Forecast luncheon, hosted by the Center for Business and Economic Research at the Sam M. Walton College of Business.

The luncheon will be held from 11:30 a.m. to 1:30 p.m. on Friday, Jan. 26, 2024, at the Rogers Convention Center in the World Trade Center District in Rogers.

This year’s luncheon will be preceded by a networking event for the speakers and attendees. All luncheon ticket holders are welcome to participate in the networking event with their fellow attendees from 10:45 a.m. to 11:20 a.m. in the Rogers Convention Center.

Panelists for the luncheon are:

  • Moderator: Curtis Barnett, president and chief executive officer, Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield
  • Global Forecaster: Gregory Daco, chief economist, EY
  • Domestic Forecaster:  Ellen Zentner, chief U.S. economist, Morgan Stanley
  • State and Regional Forecaster: Mervin Jebaraj, director, Center for Business and Economic Research

“I look forward to the luncheon each year – it is a can’t miss event for many in the business community seeking to understand how the economy is changing,” said Brent Williams, interim dean for Walton College. “Gregory, Ellen and Mervin will share their perspectives of what is going on globally, nationally, and locally and how it will affect businesses in the coming year.”

“The region’s business and community leaders get the opportunity to not just hear about the future path of the economy but also gain insights into how they can use the information to guide strategic decisions and make proactive adjustments in their firms and communities” Jebaraj said. “I am gratified each year at the interest and level of participation in the Business Forecast Luncheon.”

Pre-registration for the luncheon is required. To register, please visit the Business Forecast webpage. For questions or other registration options, please call 479-575-4151.

Sponsors to date for the 2024 Business Forecast luncheon include:  

  • Walton Presenting Partner – Signature Bank, Walmart and Sam’s Club
  • Walton Academic Partners – Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield, Conner & Winters LLP, Devereaux Real Estate Investments, Greenwood Gearhart Inc., RMP LLP – Attorneys at Law, and Simmons Foods Inc.
  • Walton Corporate Partners – Cox Communications, Cushman & Wakefield and Sage Partners, Kutak Rock LLP, Mia Rose Holdings, Regions Bank, Whisinvest Realty, and Wright, Lindsey & Jennings LLP
  • Walton Business Partners – Academy Bank, Bennett CRE, Centennial Bank, Colliers, Entergy Arkansas, First Security Bank, First Western Bank, Focus Commercial Real Estate, Hogan Taylor LLP, Intrust Bank, J.B. Hunt Transport Services, Landmark CPAs, Mathias Properties, Nabholz Construction, Ozarks Electric Cooperative, Quattlebaum, Grooms & Tull PLLC, and Rose Law Firm

For more information on sponsorships or reservations for Business Forecast 2024, contact the Center for Business and Economic Research, Sam M. Walton College of Business, J.B. Hunt Transportation Center for Academic Excellence, Suite 404, 1 University of Arkansas, Fayetteville, AR 72701. Call 479-575-4151, fax 479-575-7687 or email

To register online, visit the Business Forecast website.


Curtis Barnett is president and chief executive officer, Arkansas Blue Cross and Blue Shield. Barnett serves on the board of directors for the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association and the National Institute for Healthcare Management.
He is chair of the Board of Managers for Blue Health Intelligence, a healthcare data analytics and solutions company, and is co-chair of the national Roundtable on Innovations in Mental and Behavioral Health for the Health Evolution.

In Arkansas, Barnett serves on several industry and community boards of directors, including the Dean’s Executive Advisory Board for the Sam M. Walton College of Business at the University of Arkansas, the University of Central Arkansas Board of Trustees, where he serves as chair, the Arkansas Research Alliance and the Executive Committee for the Arkansas State Chamber of Commerce.

Barnett received a bachelor's degree from the University of Central Arkansas, a master's degree in public administration from the University of Arkansas and is a graduate of the Northwestern University Kellogg School of Management's Advanced Executive Program.

Gregory Daco is the chief economist at EY. Prior to joining EY, Daco was chief U.S. economist at Oxford Economics, where he led a team of high-caliber economists producing forecasts, analysis and research on the U.S. and global economy.

Before Oxford Economics, Daco was director of U.S. Macroeconomics at IHS Global Insight, now IHS Markit. He also worked in the Economic Affairs Department of the Belgian Embassy in Australia and the Permanent Representation of Belgium to the United Nations and World Trade Organization in Geneva. Greg is the recipient of numerous forecasting awards, including the Consensus Economics Forecast Accuracy Award in 2019.

He is a member of the National Association for Business Economics and the American Economic Association. He is former board director of the National Association for Business Economics, former president of the New York Chapter of NABE as well as founder and former president of the Boston Chapter of NABE. Greg is a frequent contributor to the Financial Times, Wall Street Journal, New York Times, Barron’s and other publications. He is also a regular guest of CNBC, Bloomberg, BBC and NPR.

Daco holds a Master of Arts in economics from Boston University, and a Master of Science in Business Management from Université de Louvain in Belgium.

Ellen Zentner is chief U.S. economist at Morgan Stanley, a managing director and a member of its Research Diversity and Inclusion Council. She joined the firm in 2013 from Nomura Securities International. From 2003 to 2011, Ellen worked for Bank of Tokyo-Mitsubishi UFJ as its senior U.S. economist. Before joining BTMU, she worked in the Revenue Estimating Division for the Texas State Comptroller.

Zentner is president of the National Association for Business Economics, and currently serves on the Treasury Borrowing Advisory Committee, as well as Geoeconomic Council of Advisers for the Center for Strategic and International Studies. She sits on the Economic Advisory Panel for the American Bankers’ Association and is a former member of the Economic Advisory Council for the Federal Reserve Banks of New York and Chicago, past chair of SIFMA’s Economic Advisory Roundtable and director of the National Association for Business Economics and the NABE Foundation.

Zentner is a member of the Council on Foreign Relations and a trustee of the Graduate Center Foundation of City University of New York. In 2018 and 2020, her team received the Lawrence R. Klein Award for the most accurate economic forecasts over the past four years.

She holds a Bachelor of Business Administration and a Master of Economics from the University of Colorado.

Mervin Jebaraj is the director of the Center for Business and Economic Research at the University of Arkansas. During his time at the center, he has been instrumental in creating and executing economic studies for clients such as the Arkansas Economic Development Commission, Northwest Arkansas Council, Walton Family Foundation, Arvest Bank, University of Arkansas and many others.

His work is regularly noted by the state's business media. Arkansas Business and the Northwest Arkansas Business Journal recognized Mervin in their 40 Under 40 lists and on the Arkansas 250 list. He is an exceptional source of business and economics-related expertise that journalists and businesspeople alike rely on to understand how national and regional issues impact Northwest Arkansas and Arkansas as a whole. He makes presentations that share the center's expertise directly to over 5,000 individuals annually and tens of thousands more hear and see his economic analysis and commentary through television, radio and print media. Jebaraj serves on the Community Development Advisory Council of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis, the Board of Directors of the National Association for Business Economics, and the Board of Directors of the Northwest Arkansas National Airport.

About the Center for Business and Economic Research: CBER is a public service, outreach organization whose mission is to serve its constituents with the highest quality research support, basic and applied business and economic analysis, and timely, relevant business, economic and related public policy information, as well as other outreach activities. In addition to supporting research within the college, the center supports economic development by providing economic and demographic data and analysis to business, government and individuals. The center actively works with the economic development community of the state to build Arkansas’ capacity to create high-wage, high-skill employment.

Lori McLemoreSince 2013, Lori McLemore has served as the marketing and communications officer for the Sam M. Walton College of Business. In this role, she writes press releases and features articles to promote the work of students, faculty and staff. 

Prior to working at Walton College, she worked as the director of web strategy and operations for Boys & Girls Clubs of America, the national headquarters for 3,500 Boys & Girls Clubs. She was part of the core team to establish an intranet site for Clubs around the globe and the public internet site for the national nonprofit located in Atlanta.

Lori holds a bachelor's degree in journalism from Auburn University ... and loves BOTH the Arkansas Razorbacks (Woo Pig!!) and the Auburn Tigers (War Eagle!!)