Chapter 9

“There’s Too Much Uncertainty—and It’s Washington’s Fault”

Our moderator began each roundtable by inviting participants to comment on local economic conditions and recent circumstances for their business. We began our discussions this way both as an easy icebreaker—folks were eager to introduce and talk about their businesses—and because, as mentioned in Chapter 3, we understand that the U.S. economy is not a monolithic whole, but rather an amalgam of many regional and local economies, with certain cities or regions often closely associated with particular industries. For example, Seattle is known for web-based technology and clean energy companies, while Memphis is known for healthcare, bioscience, and medical device companies.1 Starting our discussions by focusing on local conditions helped us get a good read on the area and set the context for what we would hear over the next couple of hours.

While some participants reported steady or even growing business, particularly in the technology space, most reported that conditions—both for the local economy and their business—remained very challenging. As one participant succinctly put it: “There’s just no demand out there.”

That message is, of course, consistent with broader economic indicators. As we discussed in Chapter 1, though the recent recession officially ended in June of 2009, the subsequent recovery has been remarkably weak and fragile. The economy expanded by just 2.4 percent in 2010, 1.8 percent in 2011, and ...

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