News and notes from Reston (tm).

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Fewer BMWs, More Ford Focuses: Welcome to Our Hellish Post-Modern Future

Focus.jpegRemember how planners envisioning a bollardy, dense and high-rise laden Reston have often cited research by some fancypants boffin at George Mason to justify their high-growth scenarios?

Yeah, that was awesome. Now, with the federal government about to careen off a metaphor-laden fiscal cliff facing budgetary challenges, maybe not so much.

"This makes you almost want to cry." That's what George Mason University economist Stephen Fuller told the 2030 Group at their meeting Thursday at National Harbor. He was talking to the group of elite business leaders (mostly from the development and real estate world) about how the past four years have changed the region's long-range economic prospects.

The upshot: the structure of the local economy is changing, and the golden goose of federal spending that has propped us up is going away. We need to look hard at what will replace it, and gear our economy toward that. That replacement may well be the health and education sectors.

When the group launched a few years back, Fuller used data through 2008 to pull together a long-range forecast of what this region might look like in 2030. Thursday, he updated that forecast based on current figures, and the change was pretty stark.

Due to things set into place during the past four years, the forecasts for this region's gross regional product in 2030 dropped $97.4 billion, the number of jobs fell by 211,100 and the projected population fell by 77,500.
He also talked about wage compression, pointing to the last year's decline in federal payroll spending — the first decline in decades.
All these numbers are giving us a major migraine, Stephen. How's about a nice soundbite?
"The economy is going to grow. We're going to have lots of people, but they'll be working in jobs that don't pay quite as much. And they'll be different kinds of jobs," he said, adding later: "It'll be less BMWs and more Ford Focuses."
Much better.

We've said it before, but we'll point out again that Fair Lakes is an illustrative concept of what can happen when reality conflicts with the champagne wishes and caviar dreams of developers. When it was first envisioned, planners imagined boulevards of high-end stores, all the Tiffany's and Gucchis and the like. Instead, thanks to the recession of the ought-nineties, we got schlocky big-box stores and an endless inland sea of parking lots that make the Spectrum look cozy by comparison. It'll be interesting to see how the changing economy alters plans slated for our neck of the woods, though a younger and less affluent workforce won't change the projected trend away from the single-family house with the white earth-toned picket fence around it.

As for us, we'll look forward to trying to find a parking space for our sweeeeet Ford Focus on Level G-17 of the Wiehle Avenue Metro parking garage, where we'll park on our way to work at our gig in Tysons, which is already gearing itself up for the "new kinds of jobs" that will be available to us, the end.


  1. You mean some of our neighbors and (gulp) us will have to get real jobs that don't depend on the government to wipe our noses for us? OMG -- we may have to move back to Pittsburgh and Kansas and Utah and Vermont!

    So (not) sorry to see all of you go...

  2. Fuller, who regularly shills for the real estate/economic development crowd, is actually caught telling the truth here, and puts the lie to the "build it and they will come" philosophy of speculative real estate cycles.

  3. GMU's forecasts--long and short term--have consistently been over-optimistic about growth. I would suspect that this latest one is as well even though it cuts 20-year regional economic growth by about 15%.

    Read Fuller's forecast for their amusement value, not their substantive content, and you will be healthier and wealthier.

  4. Will they start referring to the new HOV lanes on the Beltway as "Focus lanes?"

  5. The future is the development of the DC to Dulles tech corridor.

  6. I wonder if the wily wonks who lavish so many studies upon us will soon illustrate how the Focus is a 21st-century answer to Ford's unforgettable - even explosive! - Pinto...


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