Stephen Fuller: The ‘Go-To’ Economist for the Washington Region

Posted: September 25, 2006 at 1:00 am, Last Updated: November 30, -0001 at 12:00 am

Stephen Fuller in office
Sought-after by local governments, planning agencies and the media, Stephen Fuller strives to make economics “everyday and familiar.”

By David Driver

Stephen Fuller can make even the driest economic report seem interesting. Director of George Mason’s Center for Regional Analysis and the Dwight Schar Professor of Public Policy, Fuller is a man in demand for his thorough economic analysis and his ability to relate to his audience.

During a 30-minute presentation to the Northern Virginia Association of Realtors earlier this month, Fuller used the term “Kermit green” – referring to the Sesame Street character – to distinguish the color of a line on one of many charts he used during a PowerPoint presentation.

“It’s not quite the color of money,” quipped Fuller.

When projecting the fall housing market, Fuller encouraged local real estate agents with some numbers, and also suggested something less academic.

“Especially if the Redskins keep playing the way they are,” joked Fuller, “people will come out for your open house.”

That brought laughs from the several hundred agents who packed a room to hear Fuller, who had two more speaking engagements later that day.

“Most people think economics is complicated … You (try to) make it everyday and familiar. I try to make it light,” says Fuller, sitting in his office on the Fairfax Campus a few days later.

That approach seems to work.

The Go-To Guy

Ivy Richards is the director of market research and real estate for the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority. She has heard Fuller speak perhaps a dozen times since the late 1980s.

“He is clearly very smart. But he is an excellent communicator. He tries to make it relevant” to the non-economist, Richards says of Fuller, who makes about 75 speaking appearances a year outside of the classroom. (This semester he is teaching a doctoral seminar, Regional Economic Development Theory).

Stephen Fuller
Stephen Fuller
Photos by Evan Cantwell

“I think the world of him. I think a lot of people do. He helps to paint a picture of what goes on in this area. That is his bread and butter. He has kind of become the go-to guy” when addressing regional economic trends.

Lisa Smith, an associate broker with McEnearney and Associates in McLean, Va., heard Fuller speak for the first time at the realtors’ meeting.

“I was very impressed. He explains everything in a manner that is easy to understand,” said Smith. “His facts are phenomenal. He has a sense of humor. He is very concise, to the point. He is one of the most popular speakers (in our industry). We trust him.”

So do many members of the local and national media. Fuller is quoted frequently in the Washington Post and is heard regularly on local radio stations. He has written more than 500 articles, papers and reports in the field of urban and regional economic development, and in 1996 he was named the Educator of the Year by the Economics Club of Washington.

A Regional Influence

Fuller says he became a popular source for Washington area media in the early 1990s, when the region was suffering through a recession. Fuller, who was then a professor at George Washington University, helped prepare monthly regional economic reports and attended monthly press conferences at the Greater Washington Research Center to share those findings with the media.

In 1994, Fuller left Foggy Bottom and George Washington University for Fairfax and Mason. But the media still know where to find him: he will get calls directly at his desk from journalists.

After 25 years at GWU, Fuller says, “It was difficult to leave something I had ‘grown up’ with. But it was a good time to make this transition.

“It was fresh and energized (at Mason). It wasn’t a hard sell,” he adds. “It wasn’t about money. It was about support systems.”

He says his first faculty meeting at Mason lasted 59 minutes.

“Not one contentious word. It was collegial. There is no sense of competition between faculty here,” he says, sitting in his first floor office in the Finley Building.

Fuller has been a regular consultant on economic issues for Fairfax County and has also done work for the City of Falls Church, Prince William County and Prince George’s County in Maryland. Last year, he was even a consultant for George Mason. With help from graduate research assistant Lisa Fowler, Fuller developed a report on Mason’s economic impact in Northern Virginia.

Not only does Fuller get around the region delivering economic reports, but he’s on the move even during rare downtimes. The New Jersey native keeps a sailboat in Annapolis, and each summer makes the trip up the Atlantic coast to Maine.

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