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Area's future bright despite threat of cuts
Economist Stephen Fuller sounds bullish tone about the next few years in the Washington market

 Many area firms, like Colonial Assembly and Design in Spotsylvania County (shown here), which assembles electronic components, benefit from defense dollars. Cutbacks have been proposed in defense spending.
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Date published: 12/5/2010


One of the Washington area's best-known economists is bullish on the future of the regional economy over the next few years.

"We have a lot of growth coming our way," said Stephen Fuller, director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University, during a Thursday evening address to area business leaders in Fredericksburg.

Fuller's optimism comes despite the fact that the regional economy is heavily dependent on federal jobs and spending, and that significant cutbacks have been proposed for both to reduce America's growing deficit.

Fuller said that the cuts proposed by U.S. Defense Secretary Robert Gates may not come to fruition, and even if they do it doesn't mean that the region's defense contractors can't get more than their share of the available money. He said contractors have already started to adjust to the possible cutbacks, learning how to "do more with less" and buying smaller companies to help with growth.

A couple of examples of the latter trend have touched the Fredericksburg region of late. Two of the region's larger employers, A-T Solutions Inc. and MTCSC Inc., have been or soon will be acquired by larger firms based in Northern Virginia.

Fuller said the BRAC jobs coming to Fort Belvoir and Quantico Marine Corps Base will stimulate the regional economy and require more housing, of which little has been built during the recession over the past few years. He predicted that people who have the jobs at first will someday retire and stay in their homes, while new people will move in to fill the jobs.

Walton International Group is betting big on this trend. The Canada-based real estate investment firm has already bought hundreds of acres in southern Stafford County and plans to purchase hundreds more. The firm has said residential development will be needed in the county, likely within the next five years or so.

Fuller predicted that the incoming residents and jobs will lead to more investment in new office and retail developments. He said many people will eventually move closer to their jobs, and that others will avoid traffic woes by telecommuting. He said building new roads isn't the solution to the region's transportation problems.

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