Understanding the Regional Economy
"People are overwhelmed by what's going on in the economy right now," says Stephen Fuller, director of the School of Public Policy's Center for Regional Analysis. "We can help businesses, governments, and individuals feel more comfortable, so when they read the newspaper they understand what to expect."
Fuller has spoken to more than 100 audiences including chambers of commerce and associations since September. Behind Fuller's reports to the community on what's in store for the local economy are years of information gathering and analysis.
Fuller joined the center in 1994 and took over it in 2002 from Roger Stough, the current vice president of research and economic development for the university, who started the center with School of Public Policy Dean Kingsley Haynes in 1992.
The center has amassed a wealth of data. One database houses information on the Washington economy since 1978, and Fuller has compiled a 1,400-word report on nine specific indicators of the Washington economy performance every month since February 1991.
Together with John McClain, deputy director of the center, and Lisa Ann Sturtevant, PhD Public Policy '06, Fuller tackles the area's big issues—housing, transportation, and employment—and forecasts the future of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area. All three also teach in the School of Public Policy.
"We've been able to track the Washington area economy for four recessions now," Fuller says. "This isn't the first recession. We've had 11 recessions since World War II. They are not the same, but there are lessons from one to the next that allow us some insight." Fuller also notes that the center has forward-looking indicators that help tell how the economy's going to recover and when it's going to recover. "So we track the future, looking out 8 to 12 months," says Fuller.
Perhaps the most important part of the center's work is its community outreach, sharing the analysis it has conducted with local businesses and governments so they can make informed decisions.
"Part of our success is that we provide practical, applied research," says McClain. "It has applicability and helps our clients in the day-to-day decisions they have to make."
And the center's clients agree. Cardinal Bank, who cohosts an annual economic forecasting conference with the center, has sought out Fuller and his team's analyses for nearly 20 years. The bank has used the center's economic analyses of federal procurement spending—a specialty of Fuller's—to develop strategies for its lending.
"They bring value to our clients and the community," says Kevin Reynolds, president of Cardinal Bank. "They're able to digest vast amounts of economic data and put it into summary statements that really give clarity as to the direction of the regional economy."
"Much of what we do is a public service, and I think it's important for Mason as a public university to be able to do this," Fuller says.
This article has been updated and edited since it was written by Leah Kerkman Fogarty and appeared in fall 2009 issue of the Mason Spirit.