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Slow recovery foreseen

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LOCAL businessmen and businesswomen frequently ask me whether the Fredericksburg-area economy is getting better.

It’s never easy to give a quick and accurate response to the question. To a large extent the answer is always “It depends.” While some industries are booming, others are still struggling. Even within the same industry there are winners and losers, so it all depends on whom you talk to.

Every three months I try to offer a broad overview about how things are going on a macro level for the entire region. This is accomplished by looking at key local economic indicators and comparing them with numbers from the recent past.

Good statistics aren’t easy to find for the Fredericksburg region (the city and Caroline, King George, Spotsylvania and Stafford counties). Part of the region is in the Richmond Metropolitan Statistical Area, while the rest falls in with Washington. One must therefore break out stats for individual area localities and add them together to get regional numbers. County-by-county data aren’t always available.

The data that are available indicate that the Fredericksburg region as a whole is faring better economically than it was the past couple of years, though it’s far from the heady days of the housing boom.

For example, local governments have collected 6 percent more in sales taxes this year than they had at this point last year. New car registrations have gone up 14 percent year-over-year. Median housing prices are up 10 percent from last year, and the number of building permits for new homes has risen as well.

Yet on the other hand, the region added just a few hundred jobs between the third quarter of 2011 and the fourth (the latest data available). Despite incredibly low interest rates, local home sales are down about 2.4 percent year-over-year.

Certainly things are heading in the right direction. Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli reminded an audience of area business leaders this past week how lucky Fredericksburg is to be located along the Interstate 95 corridor between Richmond and Washington.

Cuccinelli, speaking Tuesday at the Fredericksburg Country Club, said he travels frequently to parts of the state that are hurting much more severely.

I hope that when I do this report again three months from now there will be even better news to pass along.

For now, the answer to that aforementioned difficult question would be that things are better, but certainly not going gangbusters.

Staff reporter Bill Freehling writes this biweekly column on business, personal finance and investing. He can be reached at 540/374-5405 or bfreehling @freelancestar.com.

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