This post was written by Hatchet staff writer Lauren Gomez.
University President Steven Knapp moderated a forum Wednesday morning on business and government in the DMV region, featuring a panel with Mayor Muriel Bowser, Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan.
Eleanor Holmes-Norton, D.C.’s congressional delegate, presented the panel and spoke on points of progress at the University. The congresswoman praised several large projects from Knapp’s presidency, including the construction of the Science and Engineering Hall, the launch of several research institutes, the acquisitions of the Textile Museum and Corcoran College of Arts + Design and the creation of the District Scholars program.
“The entire region is a beneficiary,” she said. “Your leadership guarantees that your service in the presidency of one of the great universities in this college town will be memorable to the District of Columbia, to the region, and to higher education.”
Knapp said he sees the University’s presence at the business forum as an opportunity, and a reflection of the University’s place in the region.
“What drives students here is the fact that this is a vibrant city, part of a very powerful culture and economy,” Knapp said in an interview. “As a university in the nation’s capital and the heart of the region, I think it is very good for us to invest in this discussion.”
The panel covered a wide-range of issues of regional issues, from partnerships with the private sector to improving local infrastructure.
Here are the key takeaways:
1. Reforming public transportation and infrastructure
The panelists spent the bulk of the forum discussing transportation initiatives, from the Metro system to road and highway reforms.
Each public official spoke of the strides their state had made in helping people maneuver the region. Hogan talked about the upcoming construction of the Metro’s Purple line and two bridges along the Potomac River, McAuliffe discussed Beltway expansion and efforts to build a Metro bridge to bypass freight traffic. Bowser said that a urban, shared economy needs a reliable and safe Metro system to flourish.
All three officials agreed that the economy relies on the Metro system, and that the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority is making headway in extensive funding and strategic reforms.
“If we start now and we’re serious as a region, we can identify and finally fund a regional, dedicated source for the Metro,” Bowser said.
“The Metro helps our students as well as our employees,” he said. “If the Metro is in trouble, we’re in trouble.”
2. Contributions from outside the government
Bowser admitted that the government needs help to complete all the projects the region needs.
“The government can’t do it alone,” she said. “If we’re going to have the facilities that our residents expect, we’ll need some partnerships.”
Both governors complimented the private sector, citing its efforts to diversify the economy and partner with the government to repair universal resources.
The panelists also discussed the dangers of allowing the region’s economy to be overly reliant on the federal government. Government sequestration has been devastating to the DMV, causing the region to lose $9.8 billion in the past 12 months, McAuliffe said.
And as the largest University in the District, Holmes-Norton said that GW contributes heavily to the diversification and success of the region.
“It is no accident that all of our universities’ presidents serve on the Capital Region Business Forum,” she said. “Universities are big business when it comes to jobs and economic growth.”
3. Growth in the DMV
The panelists said the region must adapt in order to succeed againts changing economic forces.
The DMV may have impressive job and economic growth, but local governments have to tackle factors like a shortage of many in-demand job skills among college graduates, McAuliffe said.
Each state has adapted to these shifts differently, in both the private and public sectors, Hogan said.
“We have to readjust our education to produce kids to take advantage of this growing economy, based on these kinds of skill-set issues,” Hogan said. “In Maryland, we get private companies to work together in conjunction with our communities and school systems to provide a dual-track, where students are learning technical skills while getting their high school diploma and two-year degree at the same time.”
Several panelists argued that reforms should only start with changes to the current infrastructure of transportation and education.
When asked what the nation’s next president should do to help the region, Bowser focused on the issue of statehood.
“I think she should support statehood for our city,” she said. “It gives us more senators and gives us more power as a region.”
Knapp said that a lack of statehood adversely affects the University, as well as the region as a whole.
“States can tax commuters that are coming into the city,” Knapp said. “We don’t have the same access to state structures and state funding that would benefit our university and everyone in the District.”