Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Reporter's Notebook

Paul Leonard can be reached at

The opposite of exuberance

In 1996, then Federal Reserve Chief Alan Greenspan famously coined the phrase “irrational exuberance” in regards to imprudent dot-com era investors.

Fast-forward to 2009, with this reporter looking up an antonym for “exuberance” in an attempt to describe the current state of the regional economy.

Apathy? Lethargy, perhaps?

By any name, it seems just as irrational as the overly-speculative dot-com boom or the debt-filled housing bubble of the last decade.

My awakening came as I reported the closure of Princeton Athletic Club last week. Researching past articles on the business, I discovered a quote from PAC owner David Lawson, talking about downtown Vancouver’s economic prospects in the fall of 2007.

It was like reading a note from my third grade self buried next to the jungle gym in a time capsule – distant, yet strangely familiar.

“I like the area, and it has obvious advantages with the new construction coming in and the growth,” PAC’s owner said in the Oct. 5, 2007 edition of the VBJ.

Instead of reveling in the fruits of a downtown boom, today David is unemployed and his business bank-owned, with a last-ditch effort to modify his loan shot down because his lender “didn’t see growth potential in the area,” he told me this week.

Here’s my reply to David’s lender regarding the apparent lack of growth in Vancouver, Washington:

My hometown of Albany, New York – the capital of the fourth-largest state in the Union – has been stuck at around 95,000 inhabitants for decades. By contrast, Vancouver today has 162,400 people, up from 143,560 in 2000 and 32,464 in 1960.

And let’s not forget nearly $1 billion in private waterfront investment set to break ground nearly a stone’s throw away from PAC’s newly-minted “no growth” zone.

In America, there is a trend towards seeing the market as heading upward indefinitely – i.e. the years 2004-7; 1996-9 and 1923-9 – or caught in a never-ending death spiral.

However, denying a business a life raft during one of the longest recessions since WWII because of a lack of growth potential in this still-growing city’s downtown core is what I call “irrational apathy” – or lethargy, if you prefer.