Last week I wrote of our region’s need for a Switzerland to allow our various resources and jurisdictions to be freer to compete to serve entrepreneurial innovation. By allowing those promoting entrepreneurial activities to pursue their specific self-interests, entrepreneurs would enjoy greater transparency. They would fully comprehend the motivations of those helping them and the overall level of resources available to entrepreneurs would be raised by the crucible of competition.
This argument has clearly hit a chord because the reactions from our community over the last week has been varied and strong.
Some have asked me whether I am suggesting there is no place for regional cooperation in the District, Maryland and Virginia. I am not. Cooperation among the three jurisdictions that make up the capital region is essential for our economy to grow — particularly in areas where our collective interests are served.
Examples of how regional cooperation is a must are public transport, highways, infrastructure and public utilities. As we are learning with Metro facing huge safety-related infrastructure problems, the expenses and resources required to put the system back on track exceed what any single jurisdiction should or could bear.
Let’s look at where there is room for more coordination: Educational programs to promote innovation, healthcare delivery systems stretching across jurisdictions to share best practices and care, business accelerators and investment programs more regionally agnostic. All of these activities would be enhanced if they harmonized with common goals.
There is an important distinction to be had, however, between challenges that must be met through coordination, and others where the imperatives are less obvious. Our ability to grow our region will be affected by how and where we compete, and when we chose to work together.
Many are convinced competition among regions is wasteful. While I am sympathetic to that concern, the reality of our economy is that even in the best of times it is not optimally efficient: that’s the point, we work through a solution to problems together. There is always some “waste.” The question is whether the waste is worth the outcome.
My goal is to give us a better reason to collaborate on the various challenges that face us. I am not suggesting that cooperation must occur because it is a moral good. Let’s each honestly look at what we bring to the table. The region needs big problems solved. Let’s stop asking people to cooperate because it is the right thing to do, and acknowledge that working together can also be the best thing for them to do.
Universities might discover they are better-suited to lead certain regional activities than others, and they can share resources. Job skills training, incubation… there are plenty of areas of expertise to go around.
For too long, we’ve tried to cooperate across the region, without fully appreciating when to share our strengths and when to compete to attract talent and opportunity. Let’s come together to form a region that is greater than the sum of its parts thanks to enlightened self-interest.
Jonathan Aberman is a business owner, entrepreneur and founder of Tandem NSI, an Arlington-based organization that seeks to connect innovators to government agencies. He is host of “Forward Thinking Radio” on SiriusXM, a business and policy program, and lectures at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.