Alexandria, region will climb out of economic hole first, experts say

Cue the sound of bulldozers revving to life, the foreman shouting orders, the Friday work whistle. Alexandrias economy is rumbling back to life, local experts predict. 

Top urban and regional economics researcher, George Masons Stephen Fuller, indicated northern Virginia will outpace Washington and the surrounding area in recovering from the recession. He presented his findings at a joint meeting with ACT for Alexandria, Alexandria Chamber of Commerce and Alexandria Economic Development Partnership Wednesday.

While the Washington area fared better during the economic downturn than much of the rest of the nation, Fullers research was welcome news to local officials. 

While the national economy languishes, the D.C. area is the strongest in the nation and Northern Virginia is the strongest in the D.C. area, said Val Hawkins, AEDPs CEO and president. Demand for new construction is present and will grow Were looking at a slow but steady recovery.

Hawkins points to several projects either already underway or waiting in the wings: Post Properties construction of a 344-unit apartment building in Carlyle Square, Pultes plans to erect townhouses in Potomac Yard in the spring of 2011 and Hoffman Companys Eisenhower Square development of 1,200 residential units and 68,000 square feet of retail space. 

Construction projects around the city were shelved during the recession, Hawkins said. That theyre returning indicates demand for housing a demand that will lead to construction jobs, retail outlets and a stronger economy, he said.

The housing market was the first to decline and to go and now its going to start to lead [the economy] out, Hawkins said. It means jobs. People moving to Alexandria means expanding our tax base.

Commercial construction will remain slow, but thats due to the roughly 10 percent vacant commercial space in the city, he said. New office space in the Eisenhower Avenue area opening in 2009 contributed to the glut, but Hawkins said the city is seeing plenty of subletting activity.

An economy on the move is as much good news to local nonprofits as it is to developers, said John Porter, executive director of ACT for Alexandria, which looks to catalyze philanthropy in the city. During the recession, local organizations saw an increase in demand for service, but a drop in donations from philanthropists.

The Washington area was insulated from the worst of the recession, but successfully weathering the economic downturn didnt mean some folks found themselves in need, he said. 

It tends to be a difficult time to raise money so the nonprofit arena, while being looked at to provide more service and more assistance, finds itself not able to continue to raise the funds to operate, he said. We are moving away from that downturn. Were moving in a positive direction, but were helping those others that are still being impacted.

If Fuller is correct, and Porter and Hawkins believe he is, Alexandria could be leading the nation out of the stormy economy to the brighter days ahead. 

Its a good message to hear we are moving in the right direction and we will be seeing the benefits a little sooner than others, Porter said. Its easier to say for us than for those impacted, those who are not in jobs now or were laid off, but the insight [Fuller] provided was better than it has been for sure and things seem to be moving toward where they all need to move.

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