D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray and Victor Hoskins, deputy mayor for planning and economic development, are announcing new endeavors this week to revitalize the city’s economy and get city residents back to work.
The District’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 9.8 percent in May, slightly higher than when Gray took office, and a Washington Post poll recently showed a significant decline in the mayor’s popularity.
But in an interview last week, Hoskins said the mayor will make a speech Monday at the Yards Park in Southeast Washington that will point to recent and future real estate groundbreakings as well as efforts aimed at improving the city’s ability to develop its workforce.
Among the reforms, Hoskins said, is a reorganization of the city’s Workforce Investment Council, the public-private body that has been criticized for its performance in recent years and which Gray (D) promised to reform as a mayoral candidate.
Hoskins said the WIC will be placed under a new board to focus on specific industry sectors – among them hospitality, education and health – and will report directly to him. He said his department will partner more often with employers on privately owned training facilities like one that CVS Caremark operates on South Capitol Street. “We really want to provide the opportunity to employers to offer the training,” he said.
The city is also expanding efforts to retain and attract businesses that were begun under the previous mayor, Adrian M. Fenty. In early June, Hoskins promoted David Zipper to serve as a new director of business development and will provide Zipper with a four-person staff to focus on growing, attracting and retaining businesses in the government, education/health, retail and technology fields — with an initial focus on technology. “This is where those companies grow,” Hoskins said of the city’s burgeoning technology industry. “We have an environment that they love.”
When asked about political scandals surrounding Gray and members of the D.C. Council, Hoskins said they had not hindered his ability to meet the mayor’s campaign promises in regard to jobs.
“These things we have are going to happen and they are not ever going to affect my focus,” he said. “My focus is creating an environment for our citizens to thrive. It’s creating an environment where businesses can grow.”
“I don’t know how we could have done more in this time period,” he added, having started the job in February.
On the real estate front, Gray’s administration began just in time to celebrate the groundbreaking of two major downtown projects that have been in the works for years and now stand to create thousands of new jobs. CityCenterDC, where ground was broken in March, is creating more than 1,300 construction jobs and may provide as many as 3,800 permanent ones. For the Marriott Marquis convention center hotel currently under construction, Hoskins said 47 percent of spending to date, about $52 million, has gone to small or minority-owned businesses.
But Gray also inherited a dire budget situation and a level of city debt that makes expanding his staff or subsidizing projects difficult. Hoskins said the idea to create special development entities to drive plans for projects at St. Elizabeths hospital and Walter Reed Army Medical Center was on hold for the moment, but that he still planned to find money to at least add staff. “We need to add additional people to get it done,” he said. “It really is not appropriate to only have one person on each of those projects.”