How Will Obama Affect Our Economy?

What will an Obama Administration mean for me? That is one of the biggest questions facing the Washington area business community these days.

The Greater Washington Board of Trade took at stab at answering that question on Thursday morning. It hosted a forum with Politico consisting of two panels, one comprising local politicians from all three jurisdictions and another featuring journalists and business groups. It was interesting to see who agreed with each other.

Virginia House of Delegates Speaker William J. Howell (R-Stafford) voiced strong concern about what an Obama presidency might mean for the state's robust government contracting and defense sectors. He said he believes the new president-elect might be more skeptical of relying on contractors for work and that a Democratic majority could also mean reduced defense spending, big drivers of the Old Dominion's economy.

"It's a time when the business community needs to be alert," Howell said, during the first panel which also featured Maryland House Speaker Michael E. Busch (D-Anne Arundel) and D.C. Council Chairman Vincent C. Gray.

Washington Post staff writer Neil Irwin, who sat on a different panel featuring journalists and business interest groups, said a slowdown in government contracting was already underway and, indeed, an Obama administration might be more skeptical of outsourcing government work. Many of the businesses lining the Dulles Toll Road are likely to feel that change, if they have not already. Irwin added that the area's commercial real estate boom was fueled by the global credit bubble and many projects might be in trouble now that the bubble has burst.

Stepping beyond the regional economy, the role of Washington in the American financial system is likely to be enhanced in a way that it has not been in the past, most panelists agreed.

Ron Faucheux, president of the Clarus Research Group, said Washington is "now the capital of the debt markets" and predicted a "new era of government activism" under an Obama presidency.

And despite the vitriol directed at lobbyists by both parties throughout the campaign, Jeanne Cummings, who covers lobbying and influence for Politico, said she did not yet see evidence of any major changes for the profession under President-elect Obama.

The economic downturn and housing market slump has hit all three jurisdictions, the politicians at the morning forum said. Gray said the decline in real estate taxes revenue, in particular, had hit the coffers of the District's Housing Production Trust Fund, which uses real estate tax revenues to fund affordable housing projects.

"Our ability to produce affordable housing will slow down," Gray predicted.

On a lighter note, Gray said that the District will begin adding some of its first street car lines in 18 to 24 months. Gray said the District had already ordered three street cars.

By Alejandro Lazo  |  November 6, 2008; 1:00 PM ET  | Category:  Economy , Economy Watch
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