The economic repercussions of the war in Iraq are beginning to trickle down to business owners in Prince George's County. Federal contracts have increased for some. Others are losing money because consumers are spending less. A few are dealing with the loss of military employees who have been called to duty.
For Keith Howard, owner of Areawide Electronic Security Systems Inc. in Camp Springs, international conflict has been a boon. Revenue has increased at a steady clip since the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Howard's company contracts out security guards and operates electronic security systems. The increased focus on homeland security has more than doubled his business, which has grown from seven employees in 1998 to 450 employees today.
But there is a downside for Howard. Business had been ticking along steadily until the threat of war in Iraq loomed. In waves, many of Howard's employees were called up to military duty. In the last two months, he has lost about 3 percent of his workforce. To deal with the loss, Howard's other security guards are working longer shifts. At times Howard's senior managers have had to don security uniforms and pick up shifts.
"The company is experiencing tremendous growth, and we love it, but it's a challenge," Howard said. "At some sites, if two [security] officers leave, that's 160 hours worth of time that someone has to absorb. We are not in an environment where we can miss a shift."
For commercial cleaning company Centennial One of Landover, revenue may increase because of a ripple effect, said senior operations manager Legusta Floyd Jr. The company, which employs more than 500 people to clean office buildings in the area, is expecting to get more work if Northrop Grumman, Digex and local defense contractors increase their sales and begin to hire workers and reopen buildings.
"Businesses that closed offices because the economy was down are going to open back up. Think of all of the masks, uniforms, munitions that are going to be used," Floyd said. "Everybody's business is going to profit."
Until then, he's hunkering down and taking a wait-and-see attitude.
Retailer Art Eisenstein, owner of Time Piece Jewelers in Bowie, said its too early to tell what effect the war will have on his jewelry store. Revenue at clothing retailers and restaurants slid dramatically in the first two weeks of the last war with Iraq but rebounded when it was over.
"I hear almost a sense of relief that it is has started," Eisenstein said.
Prince George's County economic analyst Holly Sun said local companies have been bracing for the war for months. Job growth has been minor, and there has been little new business activity outside the homeland security sector. Her hope is for a short war that will boost consumer confidence and jump-start spending.
"If the war is really quick, everything will go better because consumer confidence will rebound," Sun said. "We might see more investment and business activity. In such a scenery, we will see a much better economic situation. Currently, we have very minor job growth and not much good economic news."
Wendi Williams, Prince George's Chamber of Commerce president and chief executive, said local companies are concerned about the uncertainty prompted by the war.
"It's a decision whose impact has already been felt," Williams said. "Now that the war has more formally been started, I think we'll see more tangible effects on the economy. . . . The concern is that the economy is going to continue to slow down. The outlook for improvement is even less certain."