University of Tennessee researchers are predicting modest economic gains for the state through the first half of 2013, but they say significant economic improvement is still a year or two away. That’s according to UT’s fall 2012 Business and Economic Outlook released this week by the school’s Center for Business and Economic Research. Report author Matt Murray told the Knoxville News Sentinel that an increase in residential building permits and rising home prices are signs of a strengthening housing market, which could be a “real game changer” for the economy. Most sectors show prospects for job growth in 2012 and 2013. The state unemployment rate is expected to average 8.2% this year, down from 9.2% in 2011. Taxable sales are expected to rise 5.9% this year.