LA CROSSE, Wisconsin (WXOW) -- Dr. Narayana Kocherlakota, President of the Federal Reserve Bank of Minneapolis, is visiting La Crosse this week to get a better sense of the state of the area's economy.
"These kinds of information gathering events provide us with a real time, granular sense, of what's happening in the economy as a whole," he said.
Kocherlakota will host a public town hall Wednesday at 7 p.m. on the University of Wisconsin-La Crosse campus. The event is free to attend, and will be held at the Cleary Alumni and Friends Center.
The Federal Reserve Bank is split into 12 districts around the country. Kocherlakota said his district, which includes Western Wisconsin and Minnesota, is generally ahead of the national curve when it comes to economic growth.
"It's actually a very healthy district economically compared to the country as a whole," Kocherlakota said.
Kocherlakota said a diverse economy and well-educated workforce both deserve credit for the La-Crosse area's economic successes.
But he added there is always room for improvement.
"You really feel a sense of caution, or I feel a sense of caution, when you talk to people about the economy," Kocherlakota said of the mood both amongst the local population and the district as a whole.
He said the caution is likely due to lingering memories of the recent recession.
Kocherlakota said he believes the federal reserve can continue to set monetary policies that encourage economic growth.
For instance, he said current policy is scheduled to keep interest rates down until the U.S. unemployment rate, still well above 7%, dips below 6.5%. Kocherlakota said he believes the economy would benefit from keeping interest rates low for even longer.
"I think it would be useful for the economy, and provide further stimulus, if we were to commit to keeping our interest rates at their current, extraordinary low levels, until the unemployment rate falls below 5.5%," provided the rate of inflation stays normal, he said.
Kocherlakota said the Fed, which is tasked with setting monetary policy for the country that keeps the rate of inflation low and employment rates high, does its best to avoid getting involved in the political fiscal battles seen in Congress.
But he acknowledged the so-called sequester has hindered economic growth.
Kocherlakota said the sequester's spending cuts and increase in payroll taxes, crafted in the deal to entice some House Republicans to agree to a federal debt ceiling raise in January, "are a drag on growth."
Also while in La Crosse, Kocherlakota failed to express any nervousness or worry about whether a U.S. military strike against Syria would shake the markets.
He said the Fed tries to set "robust" monetary policy which "can respond to all kinds of shocks, including what might come out of congress."
The President has asked Congress to authorize the use of military force against Syria.
President Barack Obama said Saturday he has hard evidence proving the Syrian government used chemical weapons against its own people.
Meanwhile Kocherlakota said he believes the economy as a whole is heading in the right direction, albeit at a slow pace.
He said he believes the U.S. unemployment rate will eventually dip to between 5% and 6% "within the next five or six years," citing previous Federal Reserve estimates.
He also did not express an opinion on any possible candidates to replace Fed Chairman Ben Bernanke when he steps down this fall.
It's widely believed Bernanke's replacement will be either the Fed's Vice-Chair, Janet Yellen, or former Obama economic adviser Larry Summers.
When asked about Summers' candidacy to lead the Federal Reserve, Kocherlakota said merely "he's a brilliant economist," before adding there are a broad range of people qualified to take over Bernanke's post.
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