The Yardstick

Small tech firms, Silver Line (not Uncle Sam) will fuel future growth in Metro Washington

March 15, 2012 | Tags: D.C., development, economy, education, future, growth, jobs, maryland, Metro, Montgomery County, planning, politics, Silver Line, transit, transportation, urban planning, Virginia

As we’ve discussed many times on the blog, significant cuts in federal spending are right around the corner.  And metro Washington, more than any other region in the nation, will feel a major impact from them.

Fortunately, area leaders are working proactively to create a more diversified, stable and competitive economy—a Region Forward Prosperity Goal.  The COG Board of Directors, which is comprised of area elected officials, has committed to creating an Economic Growth and Competitiveness Action Plan for metro Washington this fall.

Before building the Plan, the COG Board is holding a series of special learning sessions from March to July.  To get input, they are inviting a wide range of stakeholders, including leaders in business, nonprofits, education and government.  Yesterday, they welcomed Dr. Stephen Fuller, Director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University, for the kickoff discussion—a detailed forecast of the region’s economy.

Fuller told them that the region, which led the nation in job growth for many of the past few years (thanks to federal spending during the Great Recession,) is now being outperformed by several metro areas.  He also noted that the impact of the automatic cuts of $1.2 trillion due to the failed Congressional “supercommittee” could throw the region and the nation back into recession.

COG Board Chair Frank Principi called the presentation a “wake up call” and he and his COG Board colleagues discussed with Fuller recommendations for a regional economic growth strategy.  Fuller said while he believes Congressional leaders would come to an agreement and prevent the recession scenario, metro Washington needs to accept that the federal government will play a smaller role in its economy in the future and look at our competitive advantages over other regions.

Fuller said our region’s expansive public transit system is attractive to businesses looking to relocate.  He noted the importance of the Silver Line in better linking Dulles Airport, an international hub, to the rest of the region.  COG Board members noted the region’s diverse people and ties to their homelands as a way to improve access to international markets.

Fuller also stressed the need to better understand and support the growth of small businesses in the region.  Rather than “mom and pop’ corner stores, Fuller said small technology firms held a great deal of promise for metro Washington’s economy.  Several officials on the COG Board agreed that these firms and their young staff members are drawn to the region’s diversity and its vibrant, walkable, and transit oriented activity centers.

In closing, Principi asked if any other regions have been successful in developing a regional economic strategy like the COG Board is proposing.  Fuller pointed to Dallas, which had a public sector-led initiative with buy-in from area businesses.  As a sign of its possible success, he noted that Dallas will soon outpace metro Washington and Chicago to become the third largest regional economy in the U.S.  He also reiterated the importance of regional cooperation, the cornerstone of Region Forward.

Fairfax County should no longer be competing with Montgomery County. They should be competing together as one region against places like Los Angeles and London.