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David Heaton asks: What impact do federal office locations have on business cycles?

The National Trust for Historic Preservation and the United States General Services Administration (GSA) have selected Baltimore, Athens, Ga., and Springfield, Ill., as pilot sites for a national economic measurement project that will help determine the impact of federal government offices on downtown business districts. The National Trust’s Main Street Center and the GSA’s Center for Urban Development will collaborate with local management groups on the project. The project’s results will be announced this summer.

"We wanted to select three pilot sites that would provide a wide a range of scenarios," said Kennedy Smith, director of National Trust’s Main Street Center. "We wanted a community in which the percentage of federal workers was high, relative to the overall downtown workforce, and one in which the percentage of federal workers was low."

Smith said the National Trust wanted a small town and an urban Community Business District (CBD). "We wanted some geographic diversity," he said. "We wanted one with freestanding federal buildings, and one in which most of the federal agencies in the CBD were housed in other, non-federal buildings. There were probably 20 or 30 different situations we wanted to include. The combination of Baltimore, Athens and Springfield gave us most of those situations," he added.

"We believe that federal government offices have a significant impact on the economic health of historic downtowns," said Richard Moe, president of the National Trust. "But very little is known about the extent of their economic impact. This ground breaking project will provide valuable information to federal and municipal planners alike."

According to Smith, GSA will make available the methodology the organization develops for measuring the economic impact of federal facilities on CBDs. "We’ll incorporate the methodology into National Trust work so we can use it to estimate the economic impact of federal facilities and other current or proposed activities," he said.

Paul Chistolini, acting commissioner for GSA’s Public Buildings Service, said it is in the government’s interests to leverage GSA activities in ways that have positive impacts on local communities.

"This type of data will help us to do that more effectively. Public/private partnerships like this help us to realize mutual goals," said Chistolini. "Our federal agency clients benefit, and so do the communities where they live and work."

As part of this project, local partners will assist in surveying downtown visitors and examining federal procurement contracts and federal workers’ impact on buying power, transportation and housing. Downtown management organizations will be able to use the project’s methodology to estimate the potential impacts of various development options.

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