Think region!

Specifically, think of the combined Washington and Baltimore metropolitan areas -- plus a handful of adjacent counties that don't fit near government definitions of a metropolitan area -- as one huge economic marketplace.

That's what a group of leading Washington and Baltimore executives are doing under the umbrella of a relatively young organization called the Washington/Baltimore Regional Association. Since that title is not too descriptive of what the group is all about, it also is called the Washington-Baltimore or Baltimore-Washington Common Market.

It's a difficult concept for which to gather support, since the local problems affecting either the Baltimore or Washington markets seem so important in day-to-day decisions a business person must make. It is not surprising that many Washington and Baltimore business people are skeptical when they listen to talk of a larger region. They tend to dismiss warnings that their own future survival may be related to the business climate and opportunities at the other end of the parkway.

Starting today, however, the common market advocates will begin converting some of the skeptics. In its first major step since being formed and establishing offices in the past year, the Washington/Baltimore Regional Association is publishing a preliminary statistical report on what makes up the common market. It is a necessary step, since the lack of adequate regional economic data here has been a big shortcoming with which businesses have had to cope in their planning.

As defined by the Washington/Baltimore Regional Association, the common market contains 22 separate political jurisdictions in Maryland, Virginia and the District, with the two metropolitan areas of Baltimore and Washington plus the Maryland counties of Frederick, St. Mary's and Calvert. The region is home to 5 1/2 million persons living on 6,294 square miles of land that stretches from the Maryland-Pennsylvania border to Prince William County on the lower Potomac.

One could argue that a better definition of this economic region is more Middle-Atlantic seaboard in scope, stretching all the way to Tidewater Viginia, but that can wait. In future decades, thinking in regional terms will be natural and the evidence of bigger, natural marketplace or habitats will be accepted.

In the meantime, the Baltimore-Washington Common Market is a starting point. Its proponents already face a difficult enough challenge in convincing business and government leaders that they have got a hold on something important. We are going though a period of intense and often costly promotion for individual counties, cities and states; it will take time for the people engaged in such work to see that larger benefits can be derived from promoting a larger region.

A basic goal of the common market organizers is to promote the overall region as a logical place for business to locate plants and investments, thereby creating a larger job market and helping to guarantee economic growth during an era of limited resources and tough competition for job-creation. Currently, there are no plans to duplicate the economic development work being done by indiviual jurisdictions. Instead, the common market people want to concentrate on spreading a message across the country and globe about the attractiveness of this region.

The advocates argue that a new plant, trade association office or corporate headquarters in Towson, Manassas or the District inevitably aids the economic fortunes of all who live in the other communities because disposable income is spent all over the region.

According to W. Wallace Lanaham Jr., of Baltimore, the co-chairman of the common market, "We believe that the analysis of the recently developed statistical data will demonstrate that the Baltimore-Washington Common Market is a natural, cohesive economic and marketing region with vast potential for forward thinking companies and associations. Foreign and domestic companies, associations and high technology industries should take advantage of the unique qualities" of the region.

The new data was organized by Stephen Reichenberg, chief economic analyst for the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments, and John Snell, principal economist for the Baltimore Regional Planning Council. Among the highlights:

With $55 billion in consumer expenditures, Baltimore-Washington is the fourth largest regional market in the country with a projected rate of growth in the mid-1980s that is highest of the top four; (New York, Los Angeles and Chicago are larger).

Baltimore-Washington is the nation's most accessible market," linked to the world by the third-largest port -- Baltimore -- in the United States, three airports and diverse highway, railroad and communications systems.

Governments in the region purchase goods and services valued at $175 billion a year.

Some 300,000 new jobs are expectd in the region by 1985.

The cost of living in the combined market is lower than in the Boston, New York City or San Francisco/Oakland areas.

Overall, the common market has the biggest median household income in the nation, estimated at $23,000 in 1980. It has the largest concentration of scientists, engineers and technicians in the nation. In a relatively compact area, there is a wide diversity of life styles, educational facilities and cultural or leisure activities.

One of the most important findings is a large number of young households -- an indication of growth potential since persons under 35 generally have fewer personal obligations, are freer to choose where they wish to live and work, and select good conditions and career opportunities. In this region, almost 36 percent of the household heads and half of all workers in the region are under 35 year of age. These 660,000 households represent one of the greatest concentrations of young people anywhere in the nation.

As more persons move to this region for reasons such as living conditions and careers, nearly a third of the projected increase in regional employment is expected to be in services, (finance, insurance, real estate, medical, law).