Commentary: D.C. needs a better voice for economic development, jobs

Monday, August 2, 2010

In facing the future and imagining the many possibilities for the District of Columbia, I believe that the way to a better and more prosperous economic future is to create a new sense of urgency and collective responsibility in all sectors of the city -- public, private and civic.

My vision for the city is partly based on my record of achieving success by creating opportunities for jobs, supporting small businesses and growing our economy. I also believe that our economic engine must benefit all parts of the city.

Education is critical for people to get the types of jobs that are being created in the new economy.

As the chair of the city council, I have championed efforts to promote workforce development, including adding $4.6 million for adult job training to this year's budget. I led the effort to create the Community College of the District of Columbia and I strongly supported the return of the Phelps Architecture, Construction and Engineering High School.

I am proud of authoring the legislation that reduced the District's uncompetitive commercial property tax rate, from $1.85 to $1.65 per $100 for the first $3 million of assessed value and increasing the exemption from personal property tax from $50,000 to $200,000, thereby assisting smaller property owners and business tenants. I also dedicated a portion of the personal property tax to neighborhood investment strategies.

Our city needs to act quickly in response to regional competition. Northrop Grumman's recent decision to relocate to Virginia instead of the District amply demonstrates the city's difficulty in attracting business and, thus, jobs. For more than three years D.C. has been without a long-term, coordinated economic development strategy. The Fenty administration's shortsighted and opaque approach to economic development has created an uncertain business climate in one of the least volatile markets in the country. This lack of planning and poor leadership could not have come at a worse time and our historically high unemployment rates are due in no small part to the District's dismal capacity to either develop an economic development vision or follow the previous administration's plan.

As the current global financial crisis drags on, D.C. has become the epicenter of America's global economic response. That is why I am in full support of The District of Columbia National Disaster Insurance Protection Act (H.R. 5762). The measure, put forth by Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) in Congress, would ensure that catastrophic insurance reserves are available in the District to cover losses from natural and man-made catastrophes and that those funds are exempted from federal taxes.

I will work with all affiliated businesses, including lawyers, accountants, actuaries, bankers and insurance consultants, to make sure our residents are provided the resources and training they need to compete in growing industries.

Together, I believe we can achieve a city that works better for everyone.

Vincent C. Gray (D), a candidate for mayor, is chairman of the D.C. Council.

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