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Washington DC Suburb Offers Tale of Two Economies

Before the U.S. Congress adopted the financial bailout plan, government leaders had issued dire warnings of a deep recession. Even as credit locked up in the last two weeks, one community in [the southeastern U.S. state of] Virginia provides a tale of two economies -- a hard hit housing market and high anxiety but a place where commerce survives. VOA's Jim Fry reports from Manassas.

These are not the best of times in Manassas, Virginia - about 50 kilometers from the U.S. Capitol.

Homes sit vacant. Many are in foreclosure and home values are way down.

Nor is this the worst of times. There are customers for the tellers at the Synergy One Federal Credit union.

Financial institutions are not crippled because credit is provided by a government-established bank. President Bill White says he can still take care of customers. "We're still writing mortgage loans, consumer loans, credit cards, car loans," White said. "It's just that we're not having the members coming in and borrow."

White says most people here are anxious about the gloomy economic forecasts. "Huge fear factor. And I think they're angry, some that I talk to, about the bailout," White said.

Customer Ann Adams says she is mad at big bankers and she counsels caution. "We just all need to pay attention and focus, and stop spending," Adams said.

At the local Rotary Club, where they often serve up optimism, businessmen and women are edgy, even though their businesses in this growing suburb are surviving.

At Junction Travel - Bill and Janet Dennis are picking up tickets to Hawaii, the sort of travel the owner handles here. It's usually the kind of spending people cut back on first.

Owner Stephen Nelson says his business declined earlier in the year but not as alarm spread over a possible financial collapse. "In the last few weeks? We haven't really noticed a significant difference," Nelson said. "We still have people calling, booking new trips."

Rich Kimbell painstakingly molds neon tubes for new signs, a dispensable expenditure in an economy going bad.

The owner of Metro Sign and Design, Robert Anderson, says the phones haven't been ringing much with new customers the last few days, yet-- "Money hasn't affected all those projects are still in the pipeline," Anderson said.

Reporter: "Even in neighborhoods like this one, dotted by foreclosure - the ground zero, so to speak, of the U.S. financial crisis - some say there are signs of life in the real estate market."

The Center for Responsible Lending estimates that a quarter of the loans here have been risky subprime mortgages -- double or more than in the rest of the capital area.

With the price of many homes here cut in half, Don Williams' real estate business is picking up."We are selling housing like crazy," Williams said. "Our inventory is going down."

Travel agent Steve Nelson also heads the local chamber of commerce. He says the economy is bigger than the credit crisis. "Do we go out to the restaurant, have dinner? Do we go out and come in to the office every morning? As long as millions of those little transactions happen every single day, the underlying strength of the economy will start to move forward again," Nelson said.

If this is a tale of two economies, business leaders and people on the street have one thing in common. Nearly all say they fear for the future.