D.C. mayor, Virginia governor and president of Maryland state senate discuss economic growth at Capital Region Business Forum.
By James Irwin
Political leaders of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia stressed cooperation as a pillar of regional economic growth Tuesday at the inaugural Capital Region Business Forum, sponsored by the George Washington University and moderated by President Steven Knapp.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser (D), Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe (D) and Mike Miller (D), president of the Maryland state senate, participated in the breakfast discussion in Northern Virginia, fielding questions from Dr. Knapp and the audience for nearly an hour on the region’s needs to reduce its dependency on the federal government and to leverage cooperation among their jurisdictions on topics including trade, transit and education.
“This morning’s discussion is a collaborative effort conceived, stewarded and organized by the business community,” Dr. Knapp said. “The growth of the region’s economy has to involve collaboration across jurisdictions, which is why we’re all here.”
The discussion—attended by numerous civic and community leaders, including George Mason University President Ángel Cabrera and new Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority General Manager Paul J. Wiedefeld—often returned to the most visible economic factor shared by the District, Maryland and Virginia: transportation, specifically the region’s Metrorail system and infrastructure around the D.C. beltway.
“The most important thing we need to do regionally, from my point of view, is make sure we have a safe, reliable and growing Metro system,” Mayor Bowser said. “If that system fails, the impact to this region and this economy is almost incalculable.”
It was a sentiment all three leaders voiced throughout Tuesday’s forum. Jobs, retail and housing in the area are all deeply connected to transit, Gov. McAuliffe said.
“Half of the jobs in the region we’re in—half of those people live within a half mile of a Metro stop,” he said. “This is key to our economic growth.”
It doesn’t stop with the rail system, he added. It includes roads and bridges, too.
“We live in the most congested region in the United States of America,” he said. “If people cannot move around—if it takes them two hours to go from Haymarket [Va.] to the beltway on their way into the District—they may go elsewhere. We will lose business. If it takes you two hours to go see your kids play a ballgame in the afternoon, that’s quality of life. We need to look at how we do this all around the beltway. Our population in this region is going to grow 25 percent by 2040. If we don’t start dealing with this issue today, our kids won’t be living here.”
Other topics addressed included steps the region could take to diversify its economy, which historically has relied heavily on government spending. The three leaders touched on several potential growth areas, including healthcare, research, technology, data analytics, biosciences and cybersecurity.
Several of those markets lend themselves to requiring better collaboration among the region’s colleges and universities, Sen. Miller said, and taking steps to match academic outcomes with employer and market needs.
That’s an area Dr. Knapp has spoken on several times, including at April’s Milken Institute Global Conference. The Washington region receives significant research funding, but has seen less commercialization of the results of research than in Silicon Valley or the Boston corridor, he said Tuesday.
“Universities are taking a role in that,” he said. “I-Corps is a National Science Foundation program that has a boot camp approach to getting investigators to understand what customers are looking for in advance. They are finding out what might be commercialized and using that to help guide their research. I think when you ask how universities and industry can work together more effectively, that approach commercializes intellectual property and helps diversify the economy.”
It is critical, the three leaders said, to present the resources of the region collectively on larger initiatives, like transportation, education and tourism. Washington’s bid to host the 2024 Olympics, led by former chair of the GW Board of Trustees W. Russell Ramsey, was an example of such collaboration, Mayor Bowser said.
Though the bid ultimately fell short, it highlighted the strengths of the area, especially its culture, Sen. Miller said. Among D.C. and the two states—and their famous capitals in Richmond and Annapolis—the greater Washington region is home to the nation’s historical treasures, including Jamestown, famous Civil War battlefields and the Maryland State House. The area boasts hundreds of collections, ranging from the National Archives to museums dedicated to native sons Frederick Douglass and Babe Ruth.
“We’ve got it all right here in this area,” Mr. Miller said.