Speaking this morning against a backdrop of construction on the CityMarket at O site in Shaw, Mayor Vince Gray laid out his ambitious five-year plan to bring jobs and economic growth to the city.
“This is our first-ever economic development strategy,” Gray said proudly, “which has emanated in part from our relationships with universities and the business community.”
The 112-page plan aims to bring 100,000 new jobs—-more than three times the number of unemployed D.C. residents right now—-and $1 billion in new tax revenue to the city over the next five years. It’s based on six “visions”:
- “Establish the most business-friendly economy in the nation” by assisting businesses through targeted programs and relaxing building height restrictions in certain parts of the city
- “Create the largest technology center on the East Coast” with a bub at St. Elizabeths and tax incentives for tech firms and investors
- “Become the nation’s destination of choice” by improving infrastructure (including a “District-wide Wi-Fi system”) and promoting tourism
- “End retail leakage” by changing zoning and bringing retail to underserved areas to help reduce the $1 billion spent each year by D.C. residents on retail outside the city
- “Build a best-in-class global medical center” at the McMillan site
- “Become the top North American destination for foreign investors, businesses and tourists,” particularly through efforts in China
Gray acknowledged the skepticism his numbers were likely to engender. “Within five years, this plan will allow us to create—-and you’ll probably ask, ‘What were you smoking in the back?’—-100,000 new jobs and $1 billion in revenue,” he said.
But he says the city’s come a long way to bring it to this point. “When you talk about Microsoft wanting to locate in Ward 8, that would’ve been considered heresy a few years ago,” he said.
But the plan, while impressive in its ambitions, isn’t terribly detailed on the specifics, despite its many charts and graphs. In response to a question about how to account for the sudden spurt in construction and economic activity—-Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Victor Hoskins, who dubbed himself “the official crane counter,” said there are currently 52 cranes up in the city—-Gray replied, “It’s outstanding mayoral leadership.”
The plan also makes several references to the constraints on office space (and the resulting high office costs) due to the restrictions on building heights in the city. But when I asked Gray if the plan anticipated changes to the Height Act, which are now being studied, he said no.
“We’ve tried to craft a plan over which we have reasonable control,” he said, referring to the congressional approval needed to amend the 1901 law. But he acknowledged that a change to the Height Act would affect the city’s economic development and “probably would have a major impact on the number of people living in the city as well.”
The plan does, however, factor in the potential effects of sequestration if the federal budget impasse is not resolved. “We’ve already factored that in,” Gray said. “If it doesn’t come to pass, we’ll be in a better situation.”
The city, Gray said, will get half its new jobs in the real estate and construction sector. An additional 25,000 will come from the tech sector.
“We’ve had two kinds of tech firms in D.C.: those that have started and failed, and those that have started and succeeded and left,” he said.
One of Gray’s goals is to make the city less reliant on the federal government. The fortunes of the city, he said, have been “tied to the rise and fall of the federal government. It doesn’t have to be that way.”
Photo by Aaron Wiener