Business Leaders Issue Do Or Die Plan For The DC Region
The DC region has been growing at a steady clip for several years, but if it doesn’t tackle some of its biggest headaches (we’re looking at you, inner loop backup), the region’s growth will falter. That’s the view from The 2030 Group, a coalition of business leaders launched by longtime commercial real estate leader Bob Buchanan.
The 2030 Group and 12 sponsors commissioned a study by regional economic guru Stephen Fuller that includes recommendations for getting the DC area thinking and acting more like other regions of the country and less like three distinct jurisdictions. Dr. Fuller is speaking at Bisnow's Economic Forecast and Real Estate finance event later this month.
The recommendations, which are being vetted through a number of working groups, include setting up a regional transportation authority to fix a broken system of transit and roads; a regional housing compact to better understand the area’s housing affordability issues; and a look at how universities can work more closely with the private sector on developing in-demand skills and creating an entrepreneurial culture. A group is also discussing how to launch a communications campaign focused on the region's assets beyond the presence of the federal government.
The group is also pushing for more collaboration between the jurisdictions, which has always been a challenge. Bob says he’s just now starting to see it happen—several groups that don’t normally work together, like the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce and the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, have come together to work on the Roadmap.
So what about funding—the biggest culprit politicians point to in not solving some of these issues?
Bob says the lack of funding has been too easy an excuse for the last 20 years. “There is money, but there hasn't been a will to spend it. I’m more worried about the political and private will to solve the problem."
Bob says the Roadmap was started last spring, and a coalition of business, public and nonprofit groups agreed to sponsor it because regionalism was something local jurisdictions and public and private leaders had been ignoring. The region had too many years of prosperity with growing federal procurement dollars, yet failed to address certain problems and invest in the future.
Bob says the economic study and Roadmap should grab the attention of the commercial real estate community considering there’s 20M SF of vacant office space in Fairfax County and 11M SF in Montgomery County, which represent the two strongest commercial jurisdictions in Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland.
Technology, government contraction and workforce trends have changed office space requirements, and now the challenges of traffic and housing affordability will be factors in attracting and retaining the talent needed to mitigate the region's vacancy.
Without collaboration, the region’s biotech and life sciences sectors have fallen behind other regions. They could be in the second tier of clusters in the country if Maryland and Virginia worked more closely together on attracting and retaining more biotech companies, says Bob.
“We’re not ready to compete with Boston and San Francisco, but because we haven't marketed ourselves as a region, we’re in the fourth tier,” he adds. Gaithersburg-based MedImmune (above) is one of the few local companies with a strategy to attract more employees and other biotech companies by doing its own branding of the region as a great place to live and work for the bio sector, says Bob.
The next step for The 2030 Group is looking at the best way to nurture the entrepreneurial community and figuring out what it needs to do to thrive. Bob says the coalition behind the Roadmap will also focus on the pending Global Cities Initiative, a program launched by Brookings and JPMorgan Chase in 2012 to help metro regions strengthen their regional economies by being more globally competitive.