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Only in Marin

A New Administration and the Impact of Change

Columnist

Bill Meagher
All articles by columnist
Columnist: Bill Meagher
May, 2017 Issue


The election of Donald J. Trump as the 45th president of this country has unleashed a series of changes, with more on the way.

It’s certainly no secret Trump didn’t play well in Marin, an enclave that has always been a liberal place. Indeed Hillary Clinton pulled down 77.2 percent of the vote, while Trump garnered just 15.4 percent. But Trump swept 30 states and rode the electoral college to the White House, while Clinton simply went home.

And as the initial months of the Trump presidency unfold in ways which are at once both ungraceful and ill-conceived, Marin is beginning to understand how this administration will impact everyday life.

Some in the Marin business community may have felt that Trump’s business background and campaign rhetoric promising to skin back burdensome regulation would be a plus, or that having someone steeped in commerce would create an economy ripe for growth.

Campaigning, however, is different than governing. The president bills himself as a fan of the free market, but his stump speeches and post-campaign-launch-the-reelection-rallies made great mention of the idea of making trade more fair and of taxing imports. This in turn has led to talk abroad, particularly in Mexico and China, of hitting American exports with tariffs. This could hurt Marin companies with international sales.

The initial budget rolled out as “America First” called for cuts of 21 percent to agriculture, 16 percent to commerce, with transportation seeing a 12 percent cut and interior suffering the same slicing. The ag cuts figure to be felt in West Marin where dairy farmers and ranchers routinely interact with federal programs. Likewise, transportation programs rely upon federal dollars, and while Marin commuters are notorious for loving their own cars, and slashing federal transportation dollars will be felt by those taking busses and ferries.

Since 85 percent of the land in Marin is some sort of park, be it federal, state or local, cutting the budget for the U.S. Department of the Interior doesn’t bode well for Muir Woods National Monument, the Marin Headlands, or Point Reyes National Seashore. Tourism is a significant industry in Marin and if Interior hammers the National Parks Service, that will impact the local economy.

While Marin boasts some larger businesses like BioMarin and Autodesk, the economic engine of the county is small business. One of the go-to sources of finance for small companies is the Small Business Administration or SBA. With the U.S. Department of Commerce being threatened with a 16 percent cut, how that plays out in a practical way is an open question.

The National Institute of Health, the primary agency in the county charged with biomedical and health-related research, was set to see its budget take a 19 percent haircut. This slashing is painfully ironic in that Trump made a point in his first address to congress to say, “Cures to illnesses that have always plagued us are not too much to hope.”

The Buck Institute for Research on Aging is the type of place that can discover cures to illnesses and the type of place that receives funding from the NIH. In fact, in 2016 the Buck pulled down $18 million from the NIH, or half its operating budget. If the cuts hold up, the Buck figures to have $3.4 million less in its coffers. And given the Trump administration’s discomfort will all things scientific, hello climate deniers, the Buck would do well to look to step up outside fundraising.

Your Marin Moment

One Marin business that may benefit from a Trump administration is Martinez Services Inc., a small San Rafael-based business and government contractor working on construction related projects. The nine-person company has worked on projects for a dozen different federal agencies, including the U.S. Customs and Border Protection.

This is handy since Martinez has signed on to help build the infamous wall that Trump would like to build on the border separating the U.S. from Mexico. Martinez has signed up for a piece of the pricey project. On the campaign trail, Trump claimed $10 billion as the cost. Reuters quotes sources at Homeland Security saying it will be $21.7 billion and the pretty smart folks at MIT say it could be as much as $38 billion.

John Jones, the operations officer for Martinez says his company did work on the border fence from 2005 to 2010 in Texas. And Jones said his company knows, as an experienced government contractor, there are plenty of big companies competing for a piece of this ginormous pie. Martinez is just looking for its own slice.

Given the political climate in Marin regarding Trump, has Martinez taken any flack locally for chasing the wall project?

“Nope,” Jones said.

Bill Meagher is a contributing editor here at NorthBay biz and an associate editor in the West Coast office of The Deal and TheStreet, online financial news outlets where he covers micro and smallcap finance, financial regulation, healthcare and does investigative work. He can be reached at bmeagher@northbaybiz.com.

 


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