By Bob Schaller, Director Economic Development, St. Mary's County
Last month I wrote about the economy. A month later we've learned officially that the national economy actually fell slightly in the 3rd quarter that ended in September. From all indications October has not been much better. It will be most remembered for the upheaval in financial markets with 900 point daily declines and rises. Overall, markets continued to decline in October and by month's end there seemed to be stability, at least for the moment. Add to this an historical Presidential election this week and how markets will respond to this here and abroad, November is shaping up as another interesting month on the economic front. The Maryland state budget crisis is another factor that will be influenced greatly at the polls.
It's easiest to see things in the present, and draw a poor conclusion. Indeed, there are many sectors, housing being one of them, where this is the case.
But it is in these times of change that opportunity presents itself. Often that opportunity is not evident at first, but for those who are watching closely, including those in business who are struggling, now is the time to turn change into opportunity.
One great example is the field of energy. One economic bright spot we've witnessed is the rapid decline of fuel prices. Did you realize that the national average of a regular gallon of gas has fallen by a whole dollar in the last month alone? Today there are places north of Baltimore where a gallon of gas is just above $2, and in Virginia, actually below $2. We don't know where this will end up, but it definitely helps us in the short run, and especially going into this heating season. Hopefully, the push toward alternative energy sources will not be hampered. Like in housing, experience tells us that prices will eventually level off and turn up again. There's only so much land. Likewise, there's only so much oil.
Within this rapid change of fuel prices, first up, then down, is what creates entrepreneurial opportunities and innovation. We don't know what the next "big thing" or "killer application" is. Is it biofuels, solar, wind, geothermal, or further exploration of known deposits? The short answer is no, but the longer answer is maybe and probably a unique combination of these and other sources. Constancy, predictability, stability are all good things but often innovation does not come about until a major change or disruption occurs. That's when you ask the questions that don't normally get asked. Often the answers are surprising.
We are going through one of these times of major change. How we respond will tell us much about the next generation of energy offerings and related goods and services. Opportunity knocks, not just in energy but in many sectors of the economy.