More noteworthy is what I didn’t get, which was much disagreement with the basic premise — namely, our overreliance on federal spending that is certain to decline and the need to come up with a realistic strategy for dealing with it.
If you remember one number, let it be this one from my George Mason University colleague Stephen Fuller: Other than goods and services sold to government, only 12 percent of the region’s output is sold to people and businesses outside the region, a number that has fallen in recent years rather than risen.
In practical terms, that means we’re in for some lean years until we can diversify our “exports” outside the region. There was also little disagreement on what the most likely alternative might be: commercial technology, of both the digital and bio variety.
There was also consensus that the ability of our companies to compete in commercial markets is hampered by high costs, inadequate transportation infrastructure and the mismatch between the job skills required for such an economy and those possessed by our current workers.
Before he became a congressional candidate, John Delaney, a successful local banker and financier, put together two reports under the banner of Blueprint Maryland that give a concise and compelling account of the challenges facing not just Maryland but the wider region, as well (www.blueprint
maryland.org). Maryland, it turns out, is no less dependent on federal spending than Virginia and the District. The report does a good job of drawing the link between high costs and sprawl.
Delaney also makes a convincing case that the region has an opportunity to participate in the national manufacturing revival by better leveraging the Port of Baltimore, particularly now that a widened Panama Canal will change the economics of transporting goods from Asia to the East Coast.
Transportation, warehousing and manufacturing can provide jobs for lower-skilled workers not just in Baltimore but in Prince George’s County and the District, as well. This needs to be a regional priority — the Washington-Baltimore region, that is, which is the way we need to start thinking about things, putting aside rivalries.
What distinguishes the work of Blueprint Maryland, like that of the 2030 Group in Virginia, another “ad hoc” business group, is that it is candid and critical about our weaknesses in ways that the boosters of the Board of Trade and government officials are not.