Leaders Discuss Jobs, Education at Capital Region Business Forum

George Washington President Thomas LeBlanc moderated the event featuring D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe and U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin.

capital region business forum
Panelists discussed a wide range of issues, including partnerships between high schools and universities, during a discussion moderated by GW President Thomas LeBlanc. (Photo courtesy The Washington Post)
September 27, 2017

Area leaders on Wednesday emphasized the importance of unity and cooperation in tackling critical issues facing the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia in a discussion moderated by George Washington University President Thomas LeBlanc.

Transportation, infrastructure, jobs, cost of living, quality of life and higher education were among the topics addressed at the annual Capital Region Business Forum, a joint initiative of the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Washington Board of Trade and the Prince George’s Chamber of Commerce. GW served as the event’s signature partner.

In opening remarks at the MGM National Harbor in Prince George's County, Md., Dr. LeBlanc said comprehensive research universities like GW are an important part of these discussions, which featured D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), U.S. Sen. Ben Cardin (D-Md.) and Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D).

“We can offer our faculty’s expertise, and, of course, we help develop the next generation of policymakers and civic leaders,” Dr. LeBlanc said.

On the region’s transportation, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority is a critical issue, panelists said. Ms. Bowser emphasized the importance of a “dedicated funding source” to allow the agency to invest in maintenance and modernization efforts to ensure the long-term viability of the system to support more growth in the region.

That growth could come from Amazon, if the company decides to establish its second headquarters in the region. Each panelist had a pitch for Amazon to establish in his or her jurisdiction, but said the biggest strength is for the region to work together to attract the company.

“This is such a big game changer,” Mr. McAuliffe said.

Affordable housing and a strong minimum wage are important focuses for the region in attracting businesses and residents, Ms. Bowser said, and Mr. Cardin emphasized the importance of ensuring public safety and dedicating resources to respond to health emergencies such as the opioid crisis.

Higher education and its importance in workforce development also is an important issue, panelists said.

Mr. McAuliffe urged the education system to “adapt” to prepare graduates with skills they need for in-demand jobs without having to take on debt.

Mr.  Cardin agreed.

“There’s got to be a better fit on education and jobs,” he said, adding that affordability and accountability are both important in higher education.

Partnerships between high schools and colleges and universities are also important, Ms. Bowser said, referencing GW’s relationship with the School Without Walls, which is located on GW’s Foggy Bottom Campus and provides opportunities for students to take classes at GW and earn university-level academic credits.

Overall, the assets across this region, and the willingness for leaders to work together on many critical issues, give D.C., Maryland and Virginia the opportunity to “take it to the next level,” Mr.  McAuliffe said.