Greater cooperation across borders on a variety of issues will be critical to the National Capital Region’s future economic success according to Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker III and Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett. In particular, the leaders identified transportation, education, affordable housing, and coordinating nearby development projects as top priorities. They also urged a regional approach to marketing our multi-state region’s assets to the rest of the nation and world.
The County Executives spoke with their regional colleagues at the Council of Governments’ June Board of Directors meeting as part of COG’s 2015 focus on economic competitiveness. Baker opened the discussion by noting new developments that would spur economic activity, including a new $650 hospital planned near the Largo Metro station as well as an expanding arts district stretching from Hyattsville to the District of Columbia border. On the latter project, he said that County officials have reached out to their counterparts in the District to explore opportunities to expand the arts district into D.C. as far as the Rhode Island Avenue Metro station.
Baker pointed out that area residents cross city, county, and state lines all the time, and he encouraged government officials to approach challenges and develop ideas without being constrained by jurisdictional borders. There is no Berlin Wall between (Prince George’s County and the District), he said. Along the same vein, Baker noted Langley Park, a community located on the border of Montgomery and Prince George’s counties, as another area with great potential for regional cooperation and economic growth.
Leggett called transportation the most important issue facing the region. He said the ability-or inability-to address our transportation needs will have a major impact on the region’s economic competitiveness. Leggett also said officials needed to better engage with communities on the economic benefits of regional cooperation on interconnected issues like transportation.
Baker and Leggett both stressed that investments in education (both higher education and K-12) and affordable housing improve the quality of life for area residents and make the region a more attractive destination for new workers and businesses. In regards to housing, they also mentioned a recent effort to coordinate with the District of Columbia to end homelessness. (COG is examining opportunities to support this initiative and work with other jurisdictions and partners in the region.)
In addition, they described trips abroad to build partnerships with foreign businesses that showed the need to market the broader region. Both leaders said their presentations were more successful when they promoted their respective County’s proximity and connections with the nation’s capital.
When we make international pitches, it should be about the whole region, Leggett told the COG Board. Leggett also stressed the importance of the District of Columbia to its neighboring suburbs saying our region centers around the District and the District’s success continues to play a critical role for the region’s economy.
During the discussion, several COG members offered to help the executives promote regional initiatives to help advance these priorities related to economic growth. District of Columbia Council Chairman Phil Mendelson said he believed the District has gotten better at recognizing the value of regional cooperation with its neighboring jurisdictions and that while competition is natural and can be constructive, area residents benefit when the region works together. Mendelson cited success in raising the minimum wage among District, Montgomery, and Prince George’s officials through their COG connections.
In the months ahead, the COG Board and Region Forward Coalition will continue to discuss opportunities for regional collaboration and outline action items for advancing goals.