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THE ECONOMIC RESURGENCE OF WASHINGTON, DC
Citizens Plan for Prosperity in the 21st Century

In mid-November, 1998, this "citizens plan for prosperity on the 21st century" was announced at a large gathering of DC notables and ordinary citizens. It had been initiated at the request of the Control Board, and conducted under the auspices of the DC Department of Housing and Community Development, with funding made available by the Department of Commerce, Fannie Mae and the World Bank. As reported by the DC Council's Charlene Jarvis, what makes this plan unusual is the "positive energy" that accompanies it. In fact, the report's executive summary asserts that:

Again, implementation does not depend on waiting for something to happen in the future. It does not depend dramatic changes in the city government. The plan's implementation is happening right now. Many actions already have begun, and all are designed to be completed or at least significantly moved forward within the coming year.

Whether or not the majority of the forty recommendations can be moved forward that fast, it provides an interesting litany of all the various things that need to be done to help the economy, according to a large and respectable group of DC citizens. It also provides a valuable central theme: the plan is centered around growing the private sector:

.....as everyone knows, the federal government, the main economic force that fueled the region's growth for the past two centuries, has been cutting thousands of jobs during the past few years. But while government employment is shrinking, the city has been hard at work doing what other cities faced with major factory closings or economic shifts have done: we've been diversifying.

For Washington, DC, diversification means grooving the private sector. As a city well suited for the "New Economy" of the 21st century, we have begun to turn our knowledge and information base, our technological and communications strengths, and our position as a global center into building blocks of prosperity for our businesses and residents.

Achieving this diversification will do no less than propel the fortunes of Washington, DC to new heights. A year from now, those living and working in the city will see the results. Important indicators of success will include: 1 ) rising family incomes and reduced poverty and unemployment; 2) increased revenues with lower tax rates; 3) rebuilt and thriving neighborhoods; 4) a larger residential population and more home ownership; 5) accelerating capital investment and physical development; 6) growth in conventions and tourism; and 7) improved infrastructure, safety, schools, environment, and overall quality of life.....

While that last paragraph may seem somewhat hyperbolic, the report is based on the development of six "industry networks" which are defined as "linked businesses and industries whose specialized and diverse goods and services can compete most effectively in the global marketplace:

Industry Networks are the leading edge of business and job growth in the city. They are responsible for the bulk of the income brought into the city from markets located outside of it, across the country and around the world. Washington, DC's engines of prosperity for the 21st century consist of six key Industry Networks:

  • Business / Professional / Financial /Association Services
  • Hospitality / Entertainment / Tourism / Specialty Retail
  • Universities / Educational / Research Institutions
  • Biomedical Research / Health Services
  • Media / Publications
  • Information Technology / Telecommunicating

In the metropolitan Washington region, these six Industry Networks accounted for over 1.3 million jobs in 1996, 55% of total private sector employment. From 1980 to 1996, jobs in the six networks combined grew by 90 percent across the region. Within Washington, DC, these six Industry Networks employ nearly 300,000 people, almost two-thirds of the city's private jobs. They are the brightest stars in our city's economic sky : stars that will light the way to a more prosperous future.

The full report is available through dcwatch and there is no intention to rehearse the entire contents of the report here. However, a listing of the 40 recommendations is included below, with elaboration on only the few that NARPAC, Inc. feels deserve explanation for one reason or another:

1. STRATEGIC INDUSTRIES

A. GROW INDUSTRY NETWORKS

ACTION 1: Reduce Taxes to Encourage Business Use of New Technology

ACTION 2: Create Hospitality Industry Plan for the Entire City

ACTION 3: Involve Universities In Supporting Economic Development

Encourage local universities to provide technical and financial packaging assistance for small business entrepreneurs, including minority and community-based firms. In this inner-city economic development initiatives, universities also will reach out to the business community to establish a mentoring network for small entrepreneurs, as well as conduct field studies, special courses, research, policy analysis and other related economic development activities.

ACTION 4: Streamline Health Care Industry Regulations

Level the regulatory playing field with health care providers in the surrounding region by simplifying the Certificate of Need process, permitting procedures, and licensing requirements.

ACTION 5: Launch a Media Campaign to Improve the City's Image

ACTION 6: Establish a Technology Council To Attract and Expand Firms

B. GROW BUSINESSES AND JOBS

ACTION 7: Expand the Marketing Center to Retain and Attract Firms

ACTION 8 Implement Reforms in Consumer And Regulatory Affairs

ACTION 9: Provide Targeted Incentives to Grow Firms and Expand Jobs

ACTION 10: Assist Local Firms in Obtaining Federal and Private Contracts

ACTION 11: Increase Capital Availability For Community-Based Businesses

ACTION 12: Promote Metropolitan Cooperation for Mutual Economic Benefit

Promote metropolitan cooperation that serves the combined economic interests of the city and the region, including connecting Washington, DC's residents to Metropolitan lobs, creating NoMa as a multimedia / technology district focused on generating information technology and telecommunications businesses, extending Metrorail to Dulles Airport to strengthen the ties between downtown Washington, DC and metropolitan growth, co-sponsoring the Olympic Games to be held in the Washington-Baltimore region during the summer of 2012, promoting the Washington, DC Bicentennial in the year 2000, developing the Empowerment Zone as a partnership of Washington, DC and Prince George's County, and having the Washington, DC Marketing Center work actively with the Greater Washington Initiative in marketing the region to attract and retain businesses and jobs.

ACTION 13: Strengthen Economic Partnership with the Federal Government

Work to improve the city's partnership with the federal government by aggressively marketing available incentives, focusing on the redevelopment of surplus property, exploring options for increased funding, making greater use of federal agency resources, and promoting innovating economic development efforts such as the US Navy's "Bridges to Friendship" initiative tied to expansion of employment at the Navy Yard. Through the Washington DC Marketing Center, monitor and take action to prevent federal jobs and agencies from leaving the city, as well as actively recruit federal employment back from locations outside the city.

II. STRATEGIC POPULATIONS

A. WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT

ACTION 14: Establish the Workforce Investment Board as a Clearinghouse

Establish the Workforce Investment Board (WIB) as a public-private partnership in Washington, DC serving as a central clearinghouse and network to link education, community-based support services, skills training, and job placement with employers and industry associations. The WIB should promote and enforce standards of accountability and performance by job training providers, and spearhead management reforms in the Department of Employment Services.

ACTION 15: Expand the Role of the University of the District of Columbia

Build the capacity of the University of the District of Columbia (UDC) to meet the needs of the Industry Networks and other major employers by expanding Associate Degree programs to complement the existing four-year curriculum.

ACTION 16: Support Public "School-To-Career" Programs, Charter Schools

ACTION 17: Connect Washington DC Residents to Metropolitan Jobs

Enable the city's residents to obtain good jobs throughout metropolitan Washington by supporting the Regional Jobs Initiative, Bridges to Work, and similar partnership activities linking suburban employers with city-based providers of job training and placement, transportation, child care, and related support services.

B. ATTRACTING AND RETAINING RESIDENTS

ACTION 18: Promote Homeownership with Employers, Churches, and Schools

ACTION 19: Increase Downtown Housing and Mixed-Use Retail, Services, Arts

ACTION 20: Support and Develop Neighborhood Arts, Culture, and Tourism

ACTION 21: Demolish and Redevelop Blighted Properties

Condemn, acquire and demolish vacant and blighted buildings in Washington, DC's neighborhoods and make the land available to those who have a feasible plan for redevelopment. Grant the Condemnation Board the legislative authority to demolish property consistent with historic preservation guidelines.

ACTION 22: Enhance Community Safety by Impounding Cars Used in Crime

Remove barriers to implementation of existing laws by developing a secured parking lot for motor vehicles used in criminal activities that are confiscated and impounded by police officers.

III. STRATEGIC AREAS

A. DOWNTOWN

ACTION 23: Attract Retail Investment

ACTION 24: Use Relocation of Employment Services to Enhance Development

ACTION 25: Create Parking Facilities for Tour Buses

ACTION 26: Develop Noma as a Technology, Media, Housing and Arts District

Develop "NoMa" ( North of Massachusetts Avenue) as a new mixed-use information technology, communications media, arts and entertainment, and housing district in the area from the new Washington Convention Center to Union Station and north to New York Avenue. Create special financial incentives for technology firms in NoMa by abating or reducing all city taxes. The Department of Housing and Community Development should support a NoMa plan to identity major opportunities for private and public development. Implement the foreign trade zone and establish an "inland port" in the New York Avenue corridor to promote international business activities and make use of federal foreign trade incentives.

B. NEIGHBORHOODS

ACTION 27: Focus Business Activity near Neighborhood Metro Stations

Provide public and private incentives for investment in the areas around neighborhood Metro stations, targeting both existing stations like Anacostia and newly constructed stations such as Columbia Heights. Those Metro stations will serve as the primary anchors for economic development in neighborhoods, with an emphasis on promoting community shopping facilities, banks, and related office, commercial, retail, and tourist activity to expand businesses, jobs and services.

ACTION 28: Create Business Improvement Districts for Neighborhoods

ACTION 29: Build a Metro Station at New York Avenue to Spur Development

ACTION 30: Have Federal Incentives Cover Every Neighborhood in the City

ACTION 31: Use Navy Yard Expansion to Generate Local Business and Jobs

Using 5,000 new jobs as leverage, expand the Washington Navy Yard by redeveloping the surrounding area and generating business activity and employment on both sides of the Anacostia River. In preparation, the Department of Housing and Community Development should provide funding for an economic development plan to attract new investment in the Southeast/Southwest waterfront area.

ACTION 32: Rebuild East of the River With Major Stores and Homeownership

Produce a comprehensive development plan for East of the River neighborhoods promoting community and regional retail and office space around Metro stations and other large sites such as Camp Simms, St. Elizabeth's, and the Anacostia River waterfront, combined with a strong focus on increasing homeownership, and reducing the concentration of blighted and vacant apartment buildings.

ACTION 33: Invest in Georgia Avenue to Grow Jobs and Improve Communities

Focusing on key anchors such as Howard University, the new Washington Convention Center, two existing and two Metro stations under construction, and the Eastern Avenue gateway, build a public-private partnership to enhance business activity and create jobs by attracting new commercial investment and development along Georgia Avenue. At the same time, strengthen the quality of life, improve public works, public education, and public surety, and increase affordable homeownership by renovating housing and expanding home financing in adjacent residential neighborhoods.

ACTION 34: Use the Empowerment Zone to Increase Community Investment

ACTION 35: Increase Support for Community Development Organizations

ACTION 36: Clean up and Redevelop Hazardous "Brownfield" Sites

Clean up and redevelop environmentally hazardous 'brownfields' sites, providing new business and job opportunities for environmentally sensitive activities and expanding available land resources for economic development.

IV. IMPLEMENTATION

ACTION 37: Provide Administrative Management and Leadership

Establish a position, such as a Deputy Mayor for Economic Development, to serve as a main point of contact for business, and to coordinate economic development activities conducted by city departments and agencies, including the new Office of Economic Development to be created by the Department of Housing and Community Development and the Economic Development Council being established by the Chief Management Officer.

ACTION 38: Implement the Citywide Economic Development Corporation

ACTION 39: Improve Budget Coordination And Regulatory Streamlining

ACTION 40: Establish Ongoing Monitoring To Implement the 40 Key Actions

NARPAC, Inc. ANALYSIS

Any lengthy group of 40 recommendations can be dismissed as a laundry listin which there is not only something for everybody, but everything for everybody. On closer inspection, however, there appears to have been a conscious effort to limit the broader generalities and to focus on things that might in fact be doable by an energized city the size of Washington. Many of the items still require government stimulus and/or subsidies, but more important, many do not. NARPAC singles out the following items for comment:

Involving the Universities in the economic development `process makes eminently good sense (#3), as does shifting the focus of UDC towards marketable skills (#15), and the formation of a Workforce Investment Board (#14). Greater cooperation between the higher education institutions within DC and those throughout the metro area would have been another useful recommendation.

Involving the Region is, of course, one of NARPAC's greatest interests, and this report at least mentions the need to promote metro-wide cooperation for economic development (#12); as does the desire to connect DC residents with jobs across the area (#17). Promoting some sort of economic partnership with the Federal Government may be a bit more of a stretch (#13), but surely not beyond reach. There are, of course, many other areas in which regional cooperation can be expanded (see "defining regionalism"), and the notion of streamlining health care regulations (#4) is an interesting example..

Blight removal is another NARPAC theme supported by the suggestion to redevelop blighted properties (#21), cleaning up the brownfields, and even impounding the cars of drug dealers and other criminals (#22).

Neighborhood Renewal is a somewhat more controversial issue, if only as a matter of definition. Trying to retain the past identity of over 100 separate neighborhoods with DC's small area strikes NARPAC as the height of nostalgic folly. On the other hand, spreading the wealth beyond downtown is another one of NARPAC's basic tenets. In fact, the specific recommendation to focus business activity near neighborhood metro stations (#27) could have been taken directly from "Metro Utilization" on this web site. There is a real need to adopt a new term more closely akin to the area served by one metro stop, rather than to the earlier local residential developments.

Rebuilding East of the Anacostia is another sound recommendation (#32) that is way overdue. Building on the rebirth that is already underway around the Navy Yard (#31) and along Georgia Avenue with the Convention Center at one end (#26) and Howard University at the other (#33) is also eminently sensible and practical.

Defining Roles for the City Government is also useful, from pressing for implementation of reforms in Consumer and Regulatory Affairs (#8) and supporting public "school-to-career" programs (#16), to providing a deputy mayor for economic development and establishing a mayor's office of management and budget (#39). On the other hand, proposing to spread Business Improvement Districts (BIDs) all over the city (#28), and seeking federal Economic Enterprise Zone incentives to every census tract in the city implies that the city cannot provide its basic services.

On the more negative side, NARPAC finds no clearer definition of what a revitalized inner city should seek for its residents (although the notion of industry networks is a useful contribution), no real suggestion of time phasing or priorities among the 40 objectives, and virtually no references to the two most basic prerequisites for making the city "attractive": adequate to good public education and adequate to good public safety. The private sector investments, and the "neighborhood" revitalization should both include finite steps to improve the public schools and public security. It is also clear that the subject of rent control removal is still too sensitive to address. In fact, our national capital city may turn out to be the last bastion of outdated rent controls in the US.

Finally, it is clear that this report is still predicated on the astonishing notions that a) rational, law abiding, patriotic American citizens must somehow be induced or coerced into living and working in their nation's capital city, and that b) the federal government should essentially underwrite those incentives. One wonders how long it will take to reverse this situation to the point where citizens' groups can discuss what additional premiums can be levied to stem the influx of Americans clamoring to live near the center of their country's power and prestige.


This item was archived in July, 2002

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