Yesterday at around 1:00 p.m., the city’s economic development pooh-bahs gathered in the map room of the Carnegie Library, trying to ignore the wave of tweets and text messages announcing that now-former Council Chairman Kwame Brown had been charged with fraud. Over wraps and noodle salad, they listened politely to information they already knew: The Mayor’s team is getting graduate students to do a study that’s supposed to guide D.C.’s investment in different industries, and prompt them to cooperate with each other. The undertaking had been announced a couple months ago, and the report won’t deliver until September.
Why take an hour and a half of all these very busy peoples’ time to talk about starting work on a study? Perhaps to convince them this one’s for real: The city has done economic development plans before, and never really followed up. The Downtown D.C. Business Improvement District commissioned one from McKinsey in 2009, and nothing happened. The city and Washington D.C. Economic Partnership did a Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy the next year in order to become eligible for federal funds that never came.
“Unfortunately, many of those studies sat on the shelf,” says David Zipper, the city’s director of business development. But this one will be different! “Everything is built around actually having an impact.” And the city really needs private sector buy-in to make it work.
So they’re spending $400,000, engaging the universities, getting prominent businessfolk on board up front, and promising to develop an “economic impact model” that will help the District decide where to put its resources—-not just throw public land out to bid, as had been the practice in previous administrations. Mayor Vince Gray and Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Victor Hoskins talked about how excited they were about it. Developer Sandy Wilkes, who’d flown in from Spain just to be there, said his piece for the effort as well.
To be really effective, it could be the equivalent of D.C.’s Comprehensive Land Use Plan, by which all real estate projects are evaluated. And let’s just hope that Phil Mendelson ends up liking what they come up with.