Three examples of economic development in action in the past month provide an interesting study in contrasts between action and the appearance of action.
It was apparent in two of those examples that government officials, after careful planning and enlisting the support of the private sector, took the initiative and established a framework for more jobs and revenue. In the third example, one could say it was difficult to separate results from personalities and PR.
While major commercial and industrial developments were being announced for Montgomery and Prince George's counties, business leaders in the District were telling us that the departure of the District's deputy mayor for economic development would pose a challenge to the city's growth.
A new D.C. effort to improve economic development revolved around the deputy mayor alone, we learned from a recent story in The Post. We learned further that the mayor's new and aggressive approach to economic development under the deputy mayor has "produced some notable results."
Since Ivanhoe Donaldson's appointment as deputy mayor in January, we are told, the District has streamlined the licensing and permit process, making it easier for developers and other businessmen to do business in the city. Major disputes have been resolved with developers of two key parcels of District-owned property and several plans are under consideration for improvement of neighborhoods.
"Now we see a sense of organization from the top," a prominent member of the business community recently declared.
With Donaldson expected to leave the D.C. government soon, some question whether his successor will be able "to continue the momentum of the mayor's drive" to deliver on his campaign promises on economic development issues.
Even while the matter of a new czar for economic development seems to be a burning issue, the momentum in downtown development that was initiated in the private sector continues to fuel growth in the city, a glut in office space notwithstanding. It's a momentum that feeds on itself because of Washington's unique position as the nation's capital, explained one businessman.
To be sure, given the makeup of the local economy, the private sector will continue to build stores, hotels and office buildings downtown. City officials say, nonetheless, that they hope the new economic development effort that began in the District Building will spur private developers to build--what else?--stores, hotels and office buildings.
Is that the momentum that is threatened by the departure of Donaldson?
How about this for momentum and balanced planning--indeed, vision--with jobs and more revenue the ultimate goals? Late last month, the Montgomery County government unveiled plans to develop a 231-acre industrial research park to be used exclusively for biomedical research.
Just yesterday, Prince George's County staged its version of show-and-tell by announcing that the Christian Brothers and the Kenneth H. Michael Companies will develop a 201-acre business campus.
All the while, the New York Avenue corridor in the District and other large parcels suitable for development as business parks for high-tech industries and light industrial companies are sitting idle. At the same time, while the District is preoccupied with building more office space in downtown, locally based companies continue to seek space in the suburbs.
In Fairfax County, the Economic Development Authority boasts of assisting 44 firms moving into and expanding in the county since July 1982. Other area jurisdictions continue to make similar claims.
No doubt some of those firms moved from the District. The RIS Paper Co., for example, recently chose Prince George's County for its new $2.5 million Washington division headquarters. But then, that's not the kind of company that would require office space as part of the momentum that has overtaken downtown.
"They have got to define that better," conceded a Washington business executive, referring to the city's stated interest in attracting high tech and other businesses that don't require office space downtown.
Once District officials learn to separate goals and results from personalities, they may be able to define economic development more clearly.