In spite of the current recession, I'm optimistic about the longer-term prospects for Washington business.

I recently served as a judge in the city's History Day Fair, an annual competition for public, private and parochial students from grades six through 12. Washington's Fair focused this year on trade and industry as themes, with competition in historical papers, individual presentations, and group projects. Winners venture to the National Fair--this year in the distant city of College Park--where most states will be represented.

It's been a long time since I have looked at anything produced by sixth, seventh, and eighth graders, and I was not eager to venture out on a rainy Saturday, but duty beckoned.

What impressed me most about the projects is how much I learned from the 12- and 13-year-olds. I didn't know that The Washington Post uses radar in its publication process or that Sears, Roebuck's Allstate Insurance Co. was founded as early as 1931. Nor was I aware of the history of the Christian Heurich Brewing Co. of Washington, 1872-1945. Much of the business chronicle of Anacostia and Adams-Morgan was new to me, although the concluding comments of the students on the latter was not: "Adams-Morgan is on its way to being the next Georgetown. But is that what we want? Adams-Morgan wouldn't be Adams-Morgan."

Then there was the admirable quality of honesty and clarity in the projects. One on the arcade industry that featured all sorts of Pac-Man gimmicks began the text with the history of the first pinball machine in 1898, "The Log Cabin, because of how it was made of all wood." Another on the reconstruction of the Northeast area of the city was nitty-gritty and positive in tone: "In the beginning they dug holes in the ground to separate stores. They also were digging holes to put bricks, poles, etc. They were also tearing down the last Hechinger lumber jack. It remains, but they are remodeling."

And there was still another that summarized very clearly the critical theme of transportation industry: "I'm a businessman. My company and the other company were after the same cologne. We had one day to get to California and the first one there would get the cologne. So I went by coered wagon and they went by plane. It took me three weeks and took them four hours. So they got there first; they got the cologne and made thousands of dollars."

The students also had a good sense of humor that bodes well for careers in business. "A Day Without Paper?" was the title of a project. "Not likely" was the conclusion. Levity was the hallmark of a project on the rise of the Wrigley Co., as was the use of a poll of gum-chewing students at Alice Deal Junior High School. It seems that students liked the texture of Wrigley's (42 percent to 25 percent), but a solid majority was critical of the failure of the product to keep its flavor. As for favorites, Juicy Fruit (64 percent) was the clear winner, followed distantly by Doublemint and Spearmint. "Even in a little thing," concluded the student, "quality is important."

Finally, there was a project on money that merits attention for the reason that in its succinctness it covered a lot of economic territory and thought, avoiding the extremes of supply-siders and Keynesians: "Without money we would have no economy. Every country needs a strong economy to survive on because the economy depends on how the country spends its money. If a country spends too much money inflation may result. If they don't spend enough, people may lose jobs. We think that it is better to have an economy based on money because it helps us to budget our money."