A looming wakeup call

Published 10:37 am Saturday, August 4, 2012

The hullabaloo about “sequestration,” and doomsday predictions of the impact on national security and the economy if congressional Republicans and Democrats can’t agree on a deficit-reduction plan by year’s end, lead us to at least two conclusions:

* The federal government has become so mammoth and Washington partisanship so poisonous that meaningful fiscal reform is impossible.

* Hampton Roads better fast hitch its economic wagon to the private sector.

Portsmouth developer Bob Williams, the man largely responsible for the economic success story that is North Suffolk, spoke the truth recently when he told a reporter, “I think the entire region, including Suffolk, is going to have to start working on a different type of economic development and move away from depending on the government and the Department of Defense budget.”

Williams speaks with credibility on the topic because of his personal interest in defense-sector jobs. His Lakeview Technology Center consists of an 86,000-square-foot building constructed to government and Department of Defense specifications and pads for two more buildings of the same size. The facility features sophisticated fiber-optic data connectivity and other features to attract government agencies and contractors.

Few would benefit more from continued or increased defense-sector activity in Hampton Roads than Williams. When even he calls for economic diversification in Hampton Roads, it’s a wakeup call.

More than $100 billion in automatic budget cuts – half in defense spending — will happen by law in January if congressional negotiators don’t come to a deficit-reduction agreement. Even as Jan. 1 rapidly approaches, so-called sequestration seems unlikely to happen. You gotta figure one or both sides will blink in a presidential election year.

But what if they don’t? What if the increasingly influential Tea Party element digs in its heels with GOP leadership and refuses to support a compromise? What if liberal Democrats don’t compromise on their insistence on tax increases for the wealthy?

Unquestionably, sequestration would cause a world of economic hurt in Hampton Roads.

But it might require just that kind of pain to get the region’s leadership collectively moving on private-sector job creation.

STEVE STEWART is publisher of The Tidewater News. His email address is steve.stewart@tidewaternews.com.