D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam addressed a gathering of business owners and executives on Sept. 9 about the Washington, D.C., region’s economy and how it has been impacted by the coronavirus pandemic.
The trio of jurisdictional leaders served as the featured guests of the 2021 Capital Region Business Forum held at the Hilton Washington, DC National Mall The Wharf in Southwest. The Prince George’s County Chamber of Commerce, the Greater Washington Board of Trade and the Northern Virginia Chamber of Commerce co-sponsored the event.
“This is probably one of the most important conversations we have ever had in this region,” said Rose Allen Herring, president and CEO of the United Way National Capital Area and the 2021 chair of the Greater Washington Board of Trade. “Where else can you get the mayor and the governors at the same time?”
The three leaders shared their insights as the region slowly recovers from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic. Roughly defined, the Washington, D.C., region consists of the District; Prince George’s and Montgomery counties in Maryland; and in Virginia, Alexandria, Arlington, Fairfax and the counties of Prince Williams and Loudoun.
POLICOM, an independent economic research firm based in Palm City, Fla., identified the Washington, D.C. metro area as having the strongest economy in the U.S. in 2015. Fifteen Fortune 500 companies have headquarters in the Washington region along with 400 international associations and 1,000 internationally-owned companies, according to data from the office of the D.C. deputy mayor for planning and economic development.
Bowser Optimistic about the Future
Bowser told the business leaders that the District is “open for business.”
“It’s time for us to get back to work,” the mayor said. “We’ve stuck together and made tremendous sacrifices during the COVID period. We will be stronger coming out of the pandemic.”
Bowser highlighted several initiatives developed to assist struggling businesses including the $100 million Bridge Fund established last year. When the new city budget takes effect on Oct. 1, it will provide money for rent relief and other financial offerings. The mayor said infrastructure jobs will be key for Washingtonians and noted the completion of the new $440 million Frederick Douglass Memorial Bridge as an example of the city’s willingness to repair its roadways and bridges.
Bowser said the Washington region’s Metro system will need more federal money, reiterating how this and similar requests would have a better chance of being approved with D.C. finally being granted statehood.
“We will be able to get the funding we need for Metro if the Washington, D.C. area had six senators on Capitol Hill instead of four,” she said.
Hogan Likes His State’s COVID Metrics
The governor said business leaders should be pleased with Maryland’s coronavirus metrics.
“Eighty percent of eligible Marylanders have received at least one shot of the coronavirus,” he said. “We also found out that 95 percent of our senior citizens have had at least one COVID dose. Maryland has the second lowest case rate among the 50 states.”
Hogan said he worked with the General Assembly to create a $750 million relief package for small businesses adversely impacted by the pandemic. Additionally, he said Marylanders got $1.5 billion in tax cuts.
Like Bowser, Hogan looks forward to the infrastructure bill making its way through the U.S. Congress. He said the funds from the bill will help fix the American Legion Bridge and the 495 corridors. He said federal funds will make a difference in the building of the Purple Line, a transitway that starts in Bethesda and snakes its way through eastern Montgomery County to New Carrollton in Prince George’s County.
Northam Emphasizes Keeping COVID Infections Low
Northam said controlling the pandemic remains the key to getting Virginia’s economy back on track and growing.
“We have to get people vaccinated,” he said. “I encourage business leaders to get their employees vaccinated. Tourism is an important industry in Virginia and we have to get it back up.”
To aid small businesses, Northam said Virginia’s $100 million Rebuild Virginia fund has been created. He called on business leaders to support community colleges in their quest to retrain workers. The governor echoed Bowser and Hogan, saying the congressional infrastructure bill will help bolster corridors such as I-66 and 495 and allow for the expansion of I-95. In addition, he favors more money for Metro and hopes to see its expansion in the Dulles area move along smoothly.