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Economist: 'Global economy is moving forward with or without Washington County'

Anirban Basu was the keynote speaker at 10th annual Economic Summit at Fountain Head Country Club

November 08, 2012|By C.J. LOVELACE | cj.lovelace@herald-mail.com
  • Basu
Basu

Slowly improving after one of the worst economic recessions in U.S. history, the country, Maryland and Washington County must move forward to compete in the global economy, according to economist Anirban Basu.

“A lot of controversial issues out there, but I will tell you this: The status quo won’t work,” Basu said. “The global economy is moving forward, with or without Washington County, so Washington County better move along with it. Maybe even faster.”

Basu, chairman and CEO of Sage Policy Group based in Baltimore, was the keynote speaker Thursday night during the 10th annual Economic Summit at Fountain Head Country Club, sponsored by the Hagerstown-Washington County Chamber of Commerce and Hagerstown-Washington County Economic Development Commission.

Close to 200 people, including business leaders and educators as well as local, county and state elected officials, attended the event, according to Brien Poffenberger, president of the Chamber.

“Once a year, we get a crystallized picture of what the economy looks like for us, where we live, where we work,” he said. “We’ve got some advantages in our community and we’ve got some challenges. What we’re looking for (Basu) to do is to put that into perspective ... so we can really get a sense of the path ahead.”

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After an opening reception and a buffet-style dinner, Basu spoke to the crowd for about an hour, going over the past, present and future trends affecting the global economy all the way down to the local climate in the county and Hagerstown.

Basu said the country, state and county have emerged from the recession, but the rate of recovery has been “agonizingly slow” in some business segments, particularly in the finance and manufacturing industries, which have lost jobs locally.

“By and large, things are a bit better,” Basu said. “Certainly better than they were two years ago. The question is will they be better in one year?”

There are many unknowns moving forward, like the “fiscal cliff” coming from many expiring policies, Basu said. And until politicians solve the “gridlock” in Washington, D.C., things won’t begin to improve, he added.

“Until there’s some certainty around those issues, the economy simply cannot expand at a reasonable pace,” Basu said, noting the “political upheaval” during the recent state and local election cycle.

Basu said that the city and county need to be proactive, push for change and do things to attract highly educated or “knowledge” workers to the area.

“If you think about the best and brightest students coming out of Washington County, are they staying in this community or are they moving elsewhere? My guess is a lot of them are moving elsewhere,” he said. “What can you do to keep them in town?”

One thing could be to create a dynamic environment filled with entertainment, which possibly includes a new stadium in downtown Hagerstown, Basu said.

The city and county already have numerous amenities and attractions, but “apparently not enough,” according to Basu.

“My very strong feeling is that a stadium that’s well-placed, that’s attractive, that in fact drives a lot of attendance is a boon, a win for a community,” he said. “I think a stadium could add to that mix.”

For Poffenberger, the next year will be very telling when it comes to the economic future of the county.

“We’re coming out of that,” he said, referring to the recession. “But the next couple years will determine that glide path. Are we going to bounce back to recovery or is it going to be a slower path?”

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