Mayor Marion Barry has called on District employers to hire city residents whenever choosing between equally qualified job applicants from District and neighboring jurisdictions.
Although Barry said he could not force the 17,000 employers on the city's books to hire D.C. residents, he insisted that District businesses could do more to pull workers off the city's unemployment rolls.
"The business community ought to be serious about who they hire," Barry warned in an interview on Wednesday. "They ought to hire D.C. residents.
"If there is a choice between a competent Maryland resident and a competent D.C. resident, hire the D.C. resident," he said.
Barry, assessing his relationship with the city's business community and views on economic development here, also said he was confident the city would be in the municipal bond market within 18 to 24 months. "We have to get accustomed to doing business like everyone else," he said, saying the city's computerized accounting system would demonstrate that the city deserves a good bond rating.
Barry admitted that he has not had the time to meet as often with local business leaders as he had planned before taking office. But he said that during this, his second year in office, he would juggle his schedule in order to do so.
"The management of this government has taken far more time than I expected. I have not been able to meet with the business community individually or collectively to cut some other things out."
During his first year as mayor, Barry repeatedly has stressed business development in the District and hopes to attract new companies to expand the city's economic base.
City officials believe than even though there is little land for business development, the New York Avenue corridor and parts of Anacostia could offer space for industrial parks, for instance.
The city, Barry said, should focus on bringing light technical industries to the District, particularly firms such as electrical manufacturing companies from Japan and Germany.
Barry said that foreign investment in this country would be disturbing if it resulted in overseas investors controlling major industrial sectors, but he insisted that foregin money is a good thing for the city.
"I would love to get foreign investments here in housing, for instance. I would love to get light technical industries. I don't have all the information, but a number of states have major foreign investments."
Barry admitted that his hopes for a major economic development program for the District have suffered because of the city's inability to secure from Congress the needed funds to staff fully the city's Office of Business and Ecomonic Development.
During his mayoral campaign Barry said he hoped the city would set up business liaison offices in as many as 10 cities across the country. "I might have been over-ambitious," he said.
Barry said, however, that he thought he could still carry the city's message to other sections of the country. For example, he said the D.C. convention center board, which he hoped to appoint soon, might set up an outreach program to promote the city and the new $100 million convention facility.,
Barry also outlined other business positions during the interview.
Barry said he has ordered city officials to insist that any city contractor doing over $500,000 in city business provide the city with a comprehensive apprenticeship program to train city youth. "The law has not been complied with," Barry said.
Barry, attributing the city's inability to get business development money from Congress to a "misunderstanding" on Capitol Hill, said the city and the business community already have begun lobbying to secure the needed monies.
"With a lot of work, we'll get the [development] office funded in 1981," he said. "The business community has pledged to do a lot more lobbying.
"It's tragic that in a city of this size, the city government spends virtually nothing" on economic development, he said. "We're doing this on a shoestring. You can't find anywhere in the country where a city or state spends so little on its economy."
Barry said his administration could not solve the city's unemployment problems to his satisfaction, but he predicted that the number of jobless youth would decrease during his term.
"There is greater potential for D.C. residents and D.C. youth in particular to get jobs and job training than ever before," Barry said, citing apprentice and CETA programs, the expansion of the regional economy, the convenience of the area's rail system and the coming construction of the convention center as adding to the availability and accessibility of area jobs.
But Barry said the city is only starting to get a handle on the acutal number of unemployed residents. "We probably don't count a third of them," he said, pointing out that many frustrated unemployed people stop registering with the city.
Barry said that competition among the area's counties "is going to try to attract as much business from Washington as it can," Barry said.
But the mayor, with a slap at his predecessor Walter Washington, said his administration was for the first time making a concerted effort to retain businesses already here and to bring new ones to the city.
"The previous administration did not have the personal commitment from the mayor's office," Barry said.
He also said that until he took office, city businesses seldom notified government officials when they applied for federal economic development grants. "Before I came in there was no coordination," Barry insisted.