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As with many campaign platforms, Vince Gray‘s new economic development plan has both pablum and some actual ideas. Let’s separate the wheat from the chaff.
Good news first!
- Enforce the District’s First Source Law by charging the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development to create a tracking system for jobs that go to District residents: Yes. There is no oversight. Tools for oversight are necessary.
- Make all job training outfits go through an RFP process to get District contracts: Many grants are already awarded competitively, but making it standard operating procedure could spur some innovation and efficiency.
- Have kids interview for positions with the Summer Youth Employment Program: It definitely makes sense that the SYEP should be something you have to “get into,” and the better positions within it be more competitive. People respond to selectivity, and will value a job more if they’re not handed it as a matter of course.
- Fast-track the creation of healthcare exchanges for small businesses: This is a good thing that will be better if it happens faster.
- Create two new liaisons with the federal government to make sure the District competes hard for grants and jobs: if they can keep D.C. from losing things like the recent $25 million Federal Transportation Adminsitration grant, they’ll pay their salaries many times over.
- Start a Home Performance with Energy Star program within the District Department of the Environment: It’s crazy that we don’t have one of these already!
- Make D.C. a tax shelter for insurance reserves: Has the potential to recapture all those jobs and dough from Bermuda and the Cayman Islands. Truly bright and new idea that could make a difference.
Now for the bad news. First, it’s important to mention that while Adrian Fenty hasn’t officially rolled out an economic development campaign platform himself—his website doesn’t even have an “issues” tab—his administration has all sorts of documents that serve that purpose. When Gray says we should “energize the District’s Creative, Arts, and Entertainment Industries,” there’s already an “Action Agenda” to do that. When Gray says that Fenty has no economic development plan and wants to create a new one, well, the Washington D.C. Economic Partnership published one of those last month. The Comprehensive Plan gets evaluated and amended with Small Area Plans to address neighborhood issues. If there’s one thing this administration lacks, it’s not plans, agendas, and reports—perhaps Fenty’s campaign should just put them all on one page.
As far as Gray’s proposals, the bullshit tends to fall in a few general types: Fixes for nonexistent problems, recast versions of existing bodies, and new entities with no clear authority. Try to figure out which is which.
- Creating a D.C. Economic Development Task Force to come up with an “action plan”: It seems somewhat strange to preface your economic development plan with the creation of a Task Force that will figure out an economic development plan. Do you know what you want to do, or don’t you?
- Two new directors of Business Development and Real Estate Development under the Deputy Mayor for Economic Development: No further details on what they’ll actually be responsible for, or why they’re needed.
- The “small business expeditor” within DMPED: Sure, it might be nice to have an ombudsman or advocate to help small businesses get through the system. But why not lower the regulatory and financial hurdles in the first place, rather than paying someone to help people jump over them?
- A new “Workforce Intermediary” within the Community College of DC: It certainly makes sense to make CCDC as much of a job-generator as it can be, but how would this new body be different from the already-existing Center for Workforce Strategies?
- A new “Business One Stop” web portal within DCRA to help businesses get through the process: Wait, how’s that different from the current “Business Resource Center” web portal within DCRA that helps businesses?
- The District Green Initiative to create green jobs: This seems like it straddles the functions of the Sustainable Energy Utility and the various existing and proposed bodies for workforce development. Could it not be folded into either of them?
Finally, a special mention for a huge missed opportunity: Transportation and infrastructure. In this section, Gray has zero ideas or vision except for assessing needs and tasking DDOT and other agencies with making transportation better for depressed areas and for tourists. He expresses support for “carefully designed, pedestrian-scale streets,” but no thoughts on how they might be advanced. He says he’ll provide incentives for people to buy electric cars, but makes no mention of bicycles. He says he’ll “develop a comprehensive and thoughtful plan for the District’s streetcar network”—as if one didn’t already exist. There’s no argument that things aren’t going well already. If he thinks initiatives like Great Streets are working well and should be supported, he should say that. If not, he should tell us why.
Gray’s plan has some good stuff in it, but I wish he’d spent more time refining and expanding on the good ideas, and less time throwing out vague promises in areas where good work is already being done.