- The Washington Times - Friday, November 7, 2008

Business and political leaders were cautiously optimistic Thursday about the impact the incoming Obama administration will have on the D.C. area’s economy.

Vincent C. Gray, chairman of the D.C. Council, said the federal government’s presence has slightly buoyed the area in the current crisis, particularly by providing jobs. “While we are challenged in this region, we’re in better shape than the rest of the country,” he said.

The Greater Washington Board of Trade, in conjunction with Politico, presented two panel discussions at George Washington University on Thursday on the effects of the election both politically and economically.

Many participants agreed that the influx of new staffers in January could boost the housing market. In the short term the area might expect an increase in D.C. activity involving everything from real estate to hotel bookings for the inauguration.

The first panel included Michael E. Busch, speaker of the Maryland House of Delegates, and William J. Howell, speaker of the Virginia House of Delegates discussing the economic well-being of their areas.

The political leaders discussed their chief concerns, including balancing the budget, transportation and energy, and their hopes that the Obama administration will help them accomplish goals with funding.

But, “We’re going to have some tough economic times with this year’s budget,” Mr. Busch said.

Transportation and energy were also major issues.

Alan Chvotkin, executive vice president of the Professional Services Council, said any projects would need to be a combination of short-term and long-term. Potholes and schools can be repaired now, while it takes 18 months or longer to plan and begin construction of bridges and roads.

Mr. Howell said that Virginia was struggling to find better ways to fund its transportation initiatives. “People seem to think that all we need to do is raise the gas tax and give the money” to the Virginia Department of Transportation, he said.

Mr. Gray mentioned the proposed extension of the Metro system, particularly in Virginia to Washington Dulles International Airport, and the possibility of bringing streetcars back to the District for their cost- and energy-efficiency.

Energy policies will most likely be important to the Obama administration, according to Jeanne Cummings of Politico, as his campaign tied energy independence together with improving the economy.

Mr. Gray emphasized the importance of green buildings in Washington, and his hopes to use green buildings to create green jobs.

One thing the speakers did not see in the area’s future was becoming a financial center. Ms. Cummings said Washington will always remain a regulatory center. “I don’t think banks want to be located right by this,” she said.

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