The economic ’flu in the USA

It’s been a whole six months since I visited the USA so I was really interested to see how the economic crisis is affecting things here. Even the conference I am at, the Web 2.0 Expo is putting a sometimes optimistic, sometimes head-in-the-sand spin on things by labelling this conference “The Power of Less”.

But how does it look on the street? Taking a walk down Market Street this morning I was amazed to see the number of massive building projects that I remember from my last visit in September—they’re still there, covered in billboards advertising opening dates in the first couple of months of 2009. Those months have passed and I see no proof of progress on the projects.

Retail as well seems pretty slow—eating lunch yesterday I happened to see a lingerie store across the road advertising its “semi-annual sale”—I’m taking it that semi-annual is retail speak for “haven’t done for the past few years when the economy, and assumedly the décolletage, were uplifted”. The sidewalks themselves seem devoid of the throngs which were a feature last time I was here—this despite the glorious San Franciscan spring weather.

In what however will be a relief to some friends of mine who respectively own the best coffee roasting businesses in Wellington and Christchurch, coffee seems to be the one staple product that San Franciscans can’t do without. It seems that upwards of every second person walks the streets carrying a takeaway cup of their favourite brew.

Meeting with a silicon valley web entrepreneur this morning, I mentioned my impression of the malaise evident on the streets. His response? Apparently the city is holding up much better than less urban areas—if it’s this bad here god help the hinterlands.

So yeah—the US well and truly has a case of the ’flu—of course the question for those of us back home is how likely are we to be catching the bug? My advice to anyone looking to build a business in the next six months based on a US customer base? Stay home and grow some vegetables.

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