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City On An Economic Rebound

On the verge of the first fourth of July celebration since the September 11 catastrophe, Alexandria's first quarter economic figures show an amazing rebound.

According to figures recently released by the Alexandria Economic Development Partnership,(AEDP) Inc., the city has seen "a dramatic increase in the number of new business licenses awarded" in the first quarter of 2002.

"The vast majority of these have been in the service oriented businesses," said Paula R.W. Riley, AEDP Executive Director. "A lot of these are contracting businesses dealing with physical repairs to property."

She further noted, "It's pretty well spread out across the board. There doesn't seem to be a concentration in any one particular area. It may or may not be attributable to people being laid off and deciding to start their own business."

Marc N. Brambrut, Economic Development and Marketing Specialist for AEDP, said, "A lot of businesses start up during the first quarter for accounting purposes. But it's still a surprise how many new business licenses were issued during this time period."

THERE WERE 341 new business licenses issued in the first quarter of 2002, compared with 260 for the fourth quarter of 2001, according to AEDP statistics. "Not since the beginning of the last upswing in the economy, five years ago, have so many businesses applied for licenses in Alexandria," Riley said.

"This demonstrates the resilience and power of our local economy," she emphasized. Riley also noted, the relative degree of improvement in several other important economic categories:

* Unemployment seems to be stabilizing with the first quarter of 2002 rate at 3.70 percent compared to 3.90 percent for the fourth quarter of 2001. According to the Virginia Employment Commission, the unemployment rate for Alexandria increased 70 percent in 2001. However, although the number of weekly benefits decreased slightly during the final quarter of 2001, the average payment increased from $323.73 to $330.76.

* Hotel occupancy is still recovering, with a first quarter occupancy rate at 70.70 percent down from the first quarter of 2001 at 79.60 percent. But, the average daily rate for the first quarter of 2002 was up significantly compared to the last quarter of 2001, from $89.51 to $101.49.

* The assessed value of residential property increased from approximately $7.6 billion in 2001 to $8.9 billion in 2002. This is stimulated by the "continuing appreciation within the metropolitan region of housing proximate to core office markets and recreational amenities," according to AEDP.

THERE WERE OTHER factors impacting the economic picture, AEDP pointed out. These included:

* Ronald Reagan Washington National Airport continued to experience a constricted capacity during the first quarter, with passenger numbers down significantly from the same period 2001. Full capacity was reinstated on April 15, near the beginning of the second quarter.

* The city's economy was supported by a healthy amount of residential construction in the fourth quarter of 2001, with 1,546 unit. The first quarter of 2002 produced only 294 units.

* Commercial office vacancies reached a high of 12.10 percent in the first quarter of 2002, up from 9.10 in the same period for 2001.

* The average sale price of housing in Northern Virginia in the first quarter of 2002 was $307,317. This was down from the last quarter of 2001 which averaged $312,867.

The quarterly analysis of the economic strength of the city is part of the Local Economic Indicators Report released by AEDP.