Calling the area "recession resistant," a top local business spokesman yesterday warned that the problems of energy, transportation, unemployment and government regulation cloud the regional economic picture.
Ralph Frey, the newly installed president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, said the group will step up its public posture on these issues, trying to develop better relationships with community groups, more aggressive lobbying and communications techniques and a regional view of business problems.
At the same time, the board, which represents over 4,500 members and more than 1,400 firms, released a report of the region's economic future that painted an unusually pessimistic view of the region's economic and political future.
The report, entitled "The Next Decade," said the competition for labor between the District and Baltimore "could lead to higher costs for skilled labor."
Further, the report warned that in addition to the regional labor problems, the concentration of unskilled labor in the city and close-in suburbs "could lead to social unrest, higher cost of services and a poor business climate.
"The situation could encourage a further exodus of business from the central area to the close-in suburbs," the report said.
In addition, the report said the high costs and limited availability of energy would hinder the area's expansion, but added that energy problems could lead to the development of job centers near residential areas.
Air pollution problems, the report noted, "will persist and perhaps become more severe because of an expected increase in vehicle miles traveled per capita."
Frey, vice president of C & P Telepone Co., succeeds local developer Oliver Carr as the board's president.
Frey forecast that the current business slowdown would continue well into the 1980s.
"Predictions are for an increase in households and labor force, which, in turn, could produce sprawl and make it difficult to supply needed public services," Frey said.
But Frey stressed the importance of making the board politically visible on a regional scale. "The '70s saw us working with the new D.C. government and on some selected Maryland and Virginia issues," Frey said.
"The '80s will require the board to increase its involvement at the state and local levels and on relevent federal issues."
Frey also said the board's "political action" efforts would be expanded to support candidates who are "fiscally responsible and responsive to business concerns."
Frey said the board would work for the passage of a workmen's compensation law in the District. In addition, the board is "110 percent" behind the amendment to grant the District full congressional voting status in Congress. a
Responding to a question, Frey said the board would seek passage of Metro funding legislation in the Maryland and Virginia state houses.
Asked about the administration of Marion Barry, Frey, called the mayor "an able man" who is "completely dedicated to his job." He praised Barry for supporting the city's civic center project and setting up a study group to evaluate the climate for business in the District.
The area, he said is "recession resistant," although sectors of the economy, such as the housing industry, are "in a declining position."
Nevertheless, Frey said that "all of the fundamentals are here" for continued economic growth in the region.