“Our region is interconnected, obviously by jobs and business, but also by personal ties,” Bowser said. “The decisions that we make together will help us get over this pandemic.”
The panel was hosted by the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce, Greater Washington Board of Trade and Prince George’s Chamber of Commerce.
The reassurances about regional cooperation come as businesses and residents in the area attempt to return to normalcy despite a surge in covid-19 cases fueled by the delta variant. Concerns over the spread of the coronavirus, shifting work priorities and national labor shortages could slow the economic comeback many leaders want to see in the Washington region.
At the end of July, the District reimposed an indoor mask requirement. A Washington Post-Schar School poll released in early August found that about 4 in 10 area residents expressed virus-related concerns about attending crowded indoor gatherings, along with live performances, sporting events and movies in theaters. About 2 in 10 said they were concerned about dining indoors at a restaurant, and about 1 in 10 residents were hesitant to dine outside. Since then, covid-19 cases and hospitalizations have trended upward.
Still, the leaders touted the stability of their economies and showed optimism about their resilience. Hogan even said Maryland has had one the best economic recoveries in the country with 15 months of job growth.
“Now, our economy is booming,” Hogan said. “We are also leading in economic recovery, not just health recovery. I think they go hand in hand, so the business community is in much better shape than they were.”
All three leaders emphasized that the key to continuing their growth was increasing vaccination rates. According to Washington Post data, about 58.1 percent of the population in the District, 58 percent in Virginia and 62.2 percent in Maryland is vaccinated.
Bowser has required vaccinations for city employees, as have Hogan and Northam for some state employees in their respective jurisdictions. The District, Maryland and Virginia also have required health-care workers to be vaccinated. The three leaders encouraged business leaders to follow suit and require vaccines for employees.
President Biden announced plans Thursday to require vaccines for all federal employees and remove regular testing as an alternative.
“We’re in a biological war,” Northam said. “That’s essentially what we’re doing, and the enemy is the virus. The way to fight this war is to beat this virus, and the way to do it is the vaccine.”
The three leaders also discussed the importance of getting people back to work. Hogan and Northam discussed the main challenge many of their state’s small businesses are facing — labor shortages.
“It doesn’t matter what industry you’re in, small business owners say to me, ‘I can’t get people to come to work,’ ” Hogan said. “Labor shortage is the only real problem we’re facing for small businesses.”
Short-staffing around the country has raised questions about people’s changing priorities and a reassessment of where and how people choose to work. Bowser acknowledged that the pandemic will likely have a long-term impact on the way people want to work.
“People have had a year and a half to think about their life and what they’re doing and if they should be doing something else,” Bowser said. “Quite frankly, as an employer, I’m glad people have had that opportunity because I want them to be focused on the things that are going to make themselves happy.”
The three leaders also discussed improving transportation and infrastructure, which they said would be a critical part of the region’s business growth and comeback.
Northam discussed allocating resources toward interstate expansion projects and investing in rail and transit growth. Hogan mentioned the development of the Purple Line — the 16.2-mile light-rail project connecting Prince George’s and Mongtomery counties. He also discussed the federal infrastructure bill that would bring in about $1.2 billion to the region for projects.
“The mobility benefits are clear, but the jobs that come from all of those infrastructure projects are huge for all of us,” Bowser said. “The local business opportunities that come from those projects are also huge.”