Regionalism and Economics

March 07, 1991

The concept of regionalism has been around for decades, but it has taken a recession to revive interest here in a multi-jurisdictional approach to economic growth. Earlier this week, Maryland Gov. William Donald Schaefer, D.C. Mayor Sharon Pratt Dixon and Virginia Gov. L. Douglas Wilder gathered at a timely economic summit hosted by the Greater Washington Board of Trade. The session underscored the need for collaborative problem-solving and economic directives.

Efforts at regionalism have in the past suffered from parochialism and politics. That's not to say there haven't been some successes -- joint purchasing and studies aimed at improving public transportation for example. But much more needs to be done. Changing commuting patterns and explosive growth of the suburbs have rendered political boundaries increasingly meaningless. The Washington suburbs, for instance, make up 22 percent of Maryland's land area, but account for 35 percent of the state's jobs, 43 percent of its buying power and 40 percent of its tax revenue.

For this reason, what schools in Baltimore City and the District of Columbia produce are important to businesses in Hunt Valley and Montgomery County. Of equal concern is a regional transportation network to link available work forces in the cities with job sites. Other opportunities lie in regional marketing. One such approach is the current effort to sell the Baltimore metropolitan region as a package. New industries, too, are fomenting a need for regional cooperation. Legislation to give small companies a break on sales taxes on goods they manufacture, for example, would benefit a diverse mix of firms in Montgomery County, Baltimore City and Baltimore County.

Monday's meeting marked an important first in bringing the governors of Maryland and Virginia and the mayor of the District of Columbia together to discuss regional economic issues. The current recession has amply demonstrated the homogenous nature of this region. Now is the time for its leaders to come up with a joint vision to address the problems and opportunities of the future.

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