D.C. allure fades for mil­len­ni­als

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY ROBERT MCCART­NEY

A high-level civic group is study­ing how to keep the area ap­peal­ing.

The Wash­ing­ton re­gion must do more to lure and re­tain mil­len­ni­als to re­main eco­nom­i­cally com­pet­i­tive, ac­cord­ing to a new sur­vey of top lo­cal busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives, and a high-level civic group is study­ing how to keep the area at­trac­tive to young, well-ed­u­cated work­ers.

The Dis­trict has a higher share of mil­len­ni­als than any other ma­jor U.S. city. But the area’s de­sir­abil­ity is in jeop­ardy, the re­port says, be­cause of the high cost of hous­ing, the trou­bled tran­sit sys­tem and crowded roads, and fad­ing job open­ings ow­ing to fed­eral bud­get cuts.

“Over the past decade, the Wash­ing­ton area at­tracted lots of young, ta­lented work­ers,” said Ellen Harpel, an Ar­ling­ton, busi­ness con­sul­tant, who helped lead the study. “But now other metropoli­tan ar­eas are grow­ing faster, and they’re in­creas­ingly of­fer­ing more com­pelling job and ca­reer op­por­tu­ni­ties.”

Ri­val ar­eas “of­fer eas­ier, less ex­pen­sive but still at­trac­tive life­styles,” Harpel said at a meet­ing Thurs­day with busi­ness and civic lead­ers in a group called the Roadmap for the Wash­ing­ton Re­gion’s Eco­nomic Fu­ture. “The Wash­ing­ton re­gion re­ally needs to up its game.”

The study, based partly on 35 in-depth in­ter­views with chief ex­ec­u­tives and other lead­ers of lo­cal com­pa­nies, also iden­ti­fied other bar­ri­ers to eco­nomic growth in the re­gion, in­clud­ing in­equal­i­ties and com­pe­ti­tion among ju­ris­dic­tions and WashVa.-based ington’s rep­u­ta­tion for po­lit­i­cal grid­lock and in­ef­fi­ciency.

The sur­vey was com­mis­sioned by the Roadmap group. It is seek­ing an am­bi­tious, area-wide re­sponse to the his­toric slow­down in fed­eral spend­ing.

Founded by the 2030 Group, a busi­ness or­ga­ni­za­tion, the Roadmap has 12 other spon­sors, in­clud­ing the Greater Wash­ing­ton Board

of Trade, Fed­eral City Coun­cil, Fair­fax and Mont­gomery cham­bers of com­merce, Metropoli­tan Wash­ing­ton Coun­cil of Gov­ern­ments and the Wash­ing­ton Re­gional As­so­ci­a­tion of Grant­mak­ers.

The study’s re­sults pro­vided fresh ar­gu­ments for the Roadmap to use in press­ing lo­cal po­lit­i­cal lead­ers to set aside parochial dif­fer­ences and work to­gether on be­half of the re­gion as a whole.

To fur­ther that ef­fort, the Roadmap lead­ers set up work­ing groups Thurs­day to dis­cuss pro­pos­als such as cre­at­ing strong cen­tral­ized re­gional author­i­ties to over­see pol­icy and raise funds for trans­porta­tion and hous­ing.

They also want to “re­brand” the Wash­ing­ton re­gion to im­prove its im­age and to en­cour­age lo­cal uni­ver­si­ties to work more closely with busi­nesses to pro­vide in­tern­ships, ap­pren­tice­ships and mid-ca­reer train­ing.

The work­ing groups are to re­port back in late Novem­ber.

Sim­i­lar ef­forts in the past to en­cour­age greater re­gional co­op­er­a­tion — of­ten tar­get­ing the same is­sues of trans­porta­tion and hous­ing — have foundered be­cause of a lack of fund­ing as well as di­vi­sions among Vir­ginia, Mary­land, the Dis­trict, and lo­cal coun­ties and mu­nic­i­pal­i­ties.

But Roadmap lead­ers said that they think prospects may be bet­ter this time be­cause the re­gion is wor­ried about los­ing the fed­eral gov­ern­ment as its prin­ci­pal eco­nomic en­gine as a re­sult of the man­dated bud­get cuts known as se­ques­tra­tion.

In ad­di­tion, the plethora of safety, re­li­a­bil­ity and financial dif­fi­cul­ties with the Metro tran­sit sys­tem has high­lighted the need for the dif­fer­ent parts of the re­gion to work to­gether for a com­mon pur­pose.

“We can’t wait five or 10 years,” Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity economistStephen S. Fuller, who over saw the sur­vey, told the group Thurs­day. “We need to start mov­ing quickly be­cause we’re lag­ging be­hind.”

He noted that the Wash­ing­tonarea econ­omy fell from fifth place to sixth in the na­tion in 2014, based on to­tal out­put; Dal­las over­took it. The Wash­ing­ton area was No. 4 as re­cently as 2012, but Hous­ton passed it in 2013.

Busi­ness lead­ers at the Roadmap meet­ing at a Bank of Amer­ica of­fice near the White House vented frus­tra­tion at politi­cians and oth­ers for what they saw as fail­ure to pro­vide suf­fi­ciently strong lead­er­ship for the re­gion.

“It drives me crazy that no­body’s in charge here ,” Jim C or co ran, chief ex­ec­u­tive of the Fair­fax Cham­ber of Com­merce, told the group. “I’ve been say­ing it for 51/2 years: Who the hell’s in charge? . . . We break down at the ju­ris­dic­tional level. How do we fix that?”

John T. “Til” Hazel Jr., a prom­i­nent North­ern Vir­ginia lawyer and de­vel­oper who helped build Tysons Cor­ner, said politi­cians and some busi­ness lead­ers were com­pla­cently ig­nor­ing the dan­ger posed by se­ques­tra­tion.

“There’s still ma­jor, ma­jor re­fusal by politi­cians and busi­ness to re­al­ize that the fu­ture is not guar­an­teed by the growth of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment,” Hazel said. The re­gion “won’t get any­where un­til we’re able to con­vince the lead­er­ship, po­lit­i­cal and busi­ness, that there’s some­thing that needs to be done,” he said.

One of the study’s key find­ings was the high de­gree of in­ter­est in pro­tect­ing the Wash­ing­ton area’s allure to mil­len­ni­als.

The Dis­trict now ranks as the na­tion’s top city as a home for mil­len­ni­als, with 38 per­cent of its to­tal pop­u­la­tion be­tween 16 and 35, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent study by the Ur­ban Land In­sti­tute. An­other forth­com­ing ULI study, from which a few high­lights have been re­leased, found the Dis­trict’s mil­len­ni­als to be very sat­is­fied and called them “op­ti­mistic ur­ban­ists.”

But the younger work­ers will not nec­es­sar­ily stay in the area as they age, ac­cord­ing to the Roadmap sur­vey, if other metropoli­tan ar­eas of­fer bet­ter ca­reer paths and life­styles. That would be a ma­jor set­back for the Wash­ing­ton econ­omy, for which a pri­mary strength is its high­qual­ity work­force.

A big part of keep­ing mil­len­ni­als is pro­vid­ing hous­ing they can af­ford and mass tran­sit that they de­sire. An­other is en­sur­ing that they are able to learn skills to move ahead in their jobs.

Harpel, the busi­ness con­sul­tant, said that pro­vid­ing “in­ter­est­ing ca­reer path­ways” was “a phrase and a topic we heard across all industry clus­ters, with a whole wide range of busi­ness ex­ec­u­tives” — and the fo­cus was al­ways on mil­len­ni­als.

“Their con­cern is you’ve got all th­ese peo­ple who came to the Wash­ing­ton re­gion . . . look­ing to make the next step in their ca­reer,” Harpel said. “It’s not ob­vi­ous for them how to do that, and if this is the best place for them to do that.”

“More ro­bust ca­reer ed­u­ca­tion” would be a prac­ti­cal so­lu­tion, she said. The Con­sor­tium of Uni­ver­si­ties of the Wash­ing­ton Metropoli­tan Area and Ge­orge Ma­son Univer­sity will head the work­ing group study­ing that chal­lenge.

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