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It’s Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development Victor L. Hoskins‘ first week on the job, and he’s been meeting with the relevant folks, speaking to the appropriate groups, and generally getting to know the District (he took a couple of tours over the first two weekends after he was appointed, making sure to hit each ward).
This afternoon, he was the guest of the Coalition for Nonprofit Housing and Economic Development, which is pretty pleased to have someone with so much affordable housing experience running DMPED. He’s also a marked departure from the last deputy mayor, the publicly demure Valerie Santos, in both style and substance: A folksy, engaging speaker, he promised a more comprehensive and cross-agency approach to economic development, which advocates think had been lacking in the Adrian Fenty administration.
In the Q&A session, someone asked how he plans to attract commercial investment to underserved areas. Hoskins called himself a student of Harvard luminary Michael Porter—who started the think tanky Initiative for a Competitive Inner City—and outlined some basic principles. I’ll let him speak for himself:
The thing is, there’s a lot of money in our communities! It’s just that there’s not the equipment to capture that opportunity. There are reports of leakages of $40 million, $100 million, rolling out of the city to Virginia, Maryland. I used to live in Maryland, so when I was there it wasn’t so bad, but you know what, I don’t like it now. It’s wrong, it’s just wrong. Inappropriate! Our dollar should stay here as long as possible, it should turn as many times as possible. But the way that you do that is you create incentive programs to really reduce their risk. Because you see, what they are worried about more than anything else is risk. A lot of times, they’re not even worried about being able to finance an opportunity. They’re not even worried about finding a franchisee. What they’re worried about is the risk of endangerment.
1992? I was working in Long Beach. They called them the Rodney King riots. It was really the LAPD riots, but that’s another story. But the point is, it totally destroyed neighborhoods in Long Beach. It destroyed 380 busineses. The next day, the mayor appointed me the ombudsman to get these businesses back on their feet. In 12 months, we had 67 percent of those businesses back on their feet. The other 33 perent refused to come back, because of the risk. So we have to find ways to mitigate their risk.
It’s not necessarily their money, it’s that there’s good design. It’s that they’re not sitting there by themselves, that there’s not one store, but eight stores. That there’s some security that’s appropriate. The point is, you got to reduce their fear. Hey, Whole Foods figured it out. Man, they are all over Chicago. They’re in neighborhoods where I’m like stunned. FIrst of all, I’m like, how did you find that spot? Second of all, where’d you find these customers? These stores are packed! The point is, there’s money, and there’s a way to get ’em there. And then of course, a few incentives wouldn’t hurt.
When someone asked about his economic development strategy:
If you’re in economic development, and you’re not measuring how much your public dollar is leveraging on the private side, I don’t even know why you’re investing. If you’re not sitting there measuring how many dollars you’re spending per new job, I don’t even know why you’re doing this. If you’re not measuring how many temp construction jobs actually go to your citizens, I don’t know why you’re doing it. I don’t know how you can call it economic development. You’re not measuring the things that actually are your industry’s standard.
What I mean when I see economic development strategy: When you see an article that says something like we’re the number one business unfriendly environment in the country, you do the things to change it. You don’t ignore it. You go ok, maybe it’s not all true, but some of it’s probably true. so the things that are true, fix them. That’s a strategy, actually going in and attacking where you’re weak.
Are companies leaving and going to Maryland? I’m temperamental about it. I live here. They should not be leaving! They should grow here. What are the things we can do to keep them here, and not let them hop over to Northern Virginia? They have incentive tools, we should have incentive tools to counter them. If your enemy has weapons to go up against them without a shield—at least a shield, we don’t even have a shield—we’re just going into battle. Without a helmet, and a sword, and some shoes on your feet, you going to get hurt. Because it is a battle, and it’s vicious. Economic development’s a tough game. Housing is nicer.