A group of 14 local business leaders has called on the District government to stem the outflow of companies from the city as a first priority of a new Office of Business and Economic Development.
In a memorandum submitted last week to Mayor Walter E. Washington and City Council Chairman Sterling Tucker, the business community spokesmen also called on the city to "open up communication between government and business," asserting there is "no organized way" today for such exchanges to take place.
The businessmen's recommendations, obtained by The Washington Post yesterday came in the wake of growing concern about the lack of economic growth in the District since 1968.
The city never has had an economic development agency of its own to rival similar institutions of nearby counties and the states of Maryland and Virginia for retaining and attracting business.
Under legislation approved earlier this year, however, the Mayor was given authority to establish such an agency in his office. The Mayor signed on order to set up the agency on April 13 and since then government officials have been drawing up guidelines for the office and seeking recommendations for an initial director.
Realtor Foster Shannon, president of the Metropolitan Washington Board of Trade, said in an interview yesterday that business leaders had approached the Mayor and suggested making recommendations on organization and function for the badly-needed development office.
Officers of the new agency should "fight like tigers" to win business and jobs for the city, he declared. Shannon said such an approach by the District would not conflict with similar efforts by surrounding counties or by his organization to promote the Washington area as a whole.
Shannon is one of the 13 businessmen who approached the Mayor and who were asked to submit their idead. Other members include Giant Food, Inc., president Joseph Danzansky and James Denson of the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, a predominantly black business organization. They told the Mayor the new agency would face four primary goals in its initial year:
Identifying companies contemplating a move from the city, meeting with them, determining the reasons and seeking to retain them, approaches the city has not tried to date. The agency should recommend alternate sites, define and attempt to alleviate troublesome city regulations and help to facilitate expansion of existing business.
Beginning an era of communications with businesses by making the agency an ombudsman to handle business ideas and complaints. "We do not duggest that business should have a cprvileged position within the government, only that the economy of this city is so important to its toal well-being that the government should have particular sensitivity and capacity in the area of business and economic development," the memo suggested.
Reinforcing the business attraction activities of other groups, including the Board of Trade, by lending the prestige and weight of the Mayor's office to campaigns designed to win new firms for the D.C. area.
Becoming the District's development coordinator for one or two short-range projects whose primary purpose is economic development. Mentioned specifically in the memo were hotel and related spin-off developments associated with the proposed downtown convention center, which "will have greater potential for jobs and tax base growth than any other single project" in the entire area, as well as a draft economic development plan for the next five years.
In addition to these initial year projects, the businessmen said the agency should begin research and planning activities - possibly under contract with outsiders.
Shannon also revealed yesterday that the Board of Trade will recommend to the Mayor that not all of the annual budget of $300,000 for the agency be spent at once to hire a big staff.
At the suggestion of Danzansky at a meeting yesterday, the board will suggest that the agency might subcontract some of its initial work to local business groups, "since bureauracracies have a way of getting out of hand," Shannon stated.