A new “super regional” group of chief executives of large employers from Richmond to Baltimore has been studying the Washington area’s economy and has identified weaknesses it says are stifling growth.
The region possesses valuable assets, including a highly educated workforce and the seat of the federal government, but its incomes and productivity aren't keeping pace with other major metropolitan areas, the Greater Washington Partnership said in a report released Thursday.
In addition, too many talented workers are leaving the area because of greater opportunity elsewhere.
To reverse these trends, the self-described “civic alliance” said it will focus on two targets: improving the region’s clogged transportation network and building a workforce with skills needed for the economy of the future.
“We’re underperforming compared to our potential,” said Jason Miller, chief executive of the partnership. “Unless we bend the curve here, we’re not going to fulfill that potential.”
The partnership, which was launched in December, is not the first group to identify these areas as obstacles to the region’s prosperity.
But it may have more success in addressing the chronic problems because of its high-powered private-sector clout.
The group’s 21-member board of directors includes prominent chief executives from many of the biggest companies in Virginia, Maryland and the District.
It includes chief executives Wesley G. Bush of Northrop Grumman, Kevin Plank of Under Armour, David M. Rubenstein (co-chief executive) of Carlyle Group, Thomas Farrell of Dominion Energy, Richard Fairbank of Capital One, Chris Crane of Exelon and Sheila C. Johnson of Salamander Hotels & Resorts.
It also includes top executives of Johns Hopkins University, MedImmune, JPMorgan Chase, T. Rowe Price, Washington Gas and MedStar Health.
“Never before have the CEOs from across the Capital Region been organized into a single organization focused on impact,” Miller wrote in a memorandum released Thursday entitled “Vision for Our Future.”
The group said it wasn’t ready to describe in detail its plans for easing traffic congestion and finding more tech-savvy employees.
“It would be getting ahead of my skis a little to say, ‘Here are the solutions that we propose,’ ” Miller said.
The partnership’s chairman is investment banker Russ Ramsey, who chaired the region’s unsuccessful effort to host the 2024 Summer Olympics. The partnership evolved from that effort, as business and political leaders who worked to land the games found they shared ideas about what the area needed to advance economically.
Unlike the myriad chambers of commerce and similar groups involved in public advocacy in the region, the partnership also brings Richmond and Baltimore together with the District.
Ted Leonsis, vice chairman of the partnership and owner of the Washington Wizards and the Washington Capitals, said demographic trends mean that the Washington area must evolve into a “super city” to compete globally with other large metropolitan regions, such as those centered in New York, Los Angeles and Chicago.
“Ten years ago was the first time in recorded history where more people were living in major metro areas than disaggregated rural areas,” Leonsis said. “If we are able to create a super city, and we coordinate on the big things, ultimately it will benefit everybody.”
The partnership won’t endorse political candidates, but it will take positions on public issues. As an example of what it might do, Leonsis said it could have ensured that the American Legion Memorial Bridge was widened years ago when Virginia added lanes to the Capital Beltway on its side of the Potomac but Maryland did not.
“It’s a small example but a real one, where you would say, ‘If there was a voice of reason . . . if CEOs of companies had known about that,’ ” then the bottleneck might have been avoided, Leonsis said.
Miller, who was named chief executive of the partnership in January, served in the Obama White House as deputy director of the National Economic Council. He has been scrutinizing the region’s economic performance and has found it wanting.
The area’s share of jobs in young, high-growth firms was 10 percent — below the average of 12 percent for the 20 largest metro regions.
Miller also found that income inequality in the Washington region widened more than the average from 2011 to 2015, which he said meant less opportunity for people to get ahead.
“We don’t have a sufficient ecosystem to support young, high-growth firms consistently,” Miller said.
Two exceptions — both represented on the partnership’s board — are Under Armour and Capital One.
“We’re going to need a lot more of those if we’re going to be the kind of economy we aspire to be,” Miller said.