SAN RAFAEL, Sept. 28, 2005 -- Marin County business owners and residents today expressed their ongoing concern about the effect of housing prices on the business climate and said broad economic issues such as gas prices could adversely impact the region's labor force.

The Marin Economic Outlook Conference held at the Embassy Suites Hotel in San Rafael included a presentation by Robert Eyler, a Sonoma State University economics professor, and roundtable discussions focusing on industry trends.

In his presentation, Dr. Eyler said that Marin is an economic conundrum, with a large segment of county wealth and jobs revolving around the real estate industry. The economics professor stressed that such a condition leaves the county vulnerable as it imports a disproportionately large portion of goods and services from outside the county.

On a broader level, Dr. Eyler suggested that Marin County businesses have reason to be concerned with rising fuel prices and interest rates, which could slow the productivity gains of recent years and decrease demand for housing.

The issue of housing circled all topics covered at the conference. Though Dr. Eyler reported a low unemployment rates in the county of 3.9 percent, conference attendees noted the high cost of living in the area translated to very expensive commutes for most, a condition that could affect workforce supply in the future. Dr. Eyler added that if the fortunes of businesses continue to improve, wage demands would increase, along with associated costs such as insurance.

Real estate professionals who attended the conference, including Jack MacGlaughlin, the president of the Marin County Realtors Association, believe the housing market is poised for a slowdown, rather than a stall. Though rising interest rates would negatively impact demand, both Mr. MacGlaughlin and Dr. Eyler argued that broad restrictions on supply in the county virtually insured strong demand going forward.

Some attendees voiced concerns that local businesspeople and politicians were not taking adequate measures to increase the supply of affordable housing. Mr. MacGlaughin cited the Marin Workforce Housing Trust as evidence to the contrary, but also argued that developing more infill sites is crucial in a county with over 85 percent space.

While concerns about the housing market and macroeconomic issues were main themes at the conference, Dr. Eyler, as well as representatives from the finance, health care, technology, tourism, real estate and other industries highlighted various ways in which business investment is growing in the county and forecasted strong performance within their respective industries if such investment continues.