Improving conditions are good news for the Quad-City region, the nation - and especially the farmland sector of the economy, Deere & Co.'s chief economist said Tuesday.

J.B. Penn, chief economist for the Moline-based manufacturer, offered an optimistic by-the-numbers economic forecast to an audience at John Deere World Headquarters in Moline.

"The global economy is growing," he said. "All of it is showing positive growth and the world has passed one of the scariest times, at least in my lifetime. Overall, there are some pitfalls. But when we view all of our prospects for 2011 and 2012, it looks quite bright."

Penn shared predictions that call for the U.S. unemployment rate, which peaked at 10 percent in 2009, to decline to 9 percent later this year and to just above 8 percent in 2012.

"If the economy grows, we should be able to create some more jobs," he said.

He termed the beginning of the first quarter of 2011 "robust," and said the overall economy is poised to continue to grow.

He reminded the audience, many of whom were members of the Quad-Cities Chamber of Commerce, which sponsored the presentation, that the value of the U.S. dollar has been on a "downward spin" since 2002. "And there is no reason to think that in the next year or two that it will be reversed. It will continue to be weak," he said.

However, he said farmland prices in the Midwest are doing very well, reflecting the strong commodity prices around the world. "It's a great time to be in agriculture," he said.

He added that the balance sheet for the farmland sector "has never been healthier."

Penn previously was undersecretary for farm and foreign agricultural services in the U.S. Department of Agriculture and has held positions, including deputy administrator for economics and senior staff economist, on the President's Council of Economic Advisors.

After his work in the federal government, Penn moved to the private sector where he has worked for more than two decades. He has been with Deere since 2006.

His optimism was shared by those in the audience, including Chuck Ruhl Jr., president of Ruhl & Ruhl Commercial and also a member of the chamber board.

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"I think the outlook looks very favorable," he said.

He said an increase in exports to developing countries bodes well for the United States and especially the Quad-Cities.

Tara Barney, chief executive officer of the chamber, said the message offered a "positive and conservative" view of the overall economy.

"There will be good, year-to-year growth. It will be a trend up," she said. "The challenge is to get people back to work. That is a tough one and one we locally can do something about."