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Bob Buchanan '64 speaks at George Mason University

Bob Buchanan '64 gave the Second Annual Leadership in Real Estate Lecture hosted by George Mason University’s Center for Real Estate Entrepreneurship on April 20, 2015. Here is a video of his presentation followed by a written summary of his remarks.

Viewpoint: Think regionally, say it loud and say it proud

The Washington region has had it pretty good for a long time. But after years of expansion and unprecedented job growth, it appears the tide has turned and will continue to ebb. Sequestration cuts have pointed out that we have been too dependent upon federal funding for our economic well-being, and according to the most recent census data, our population growth is in decline. In fact, for the first time, Fairfax County, Arlington County, and Alexandria have all seen more people move out than in over the past year. So, what can we do to turn around our deteriorating economy and buffer the unprecedented threats to the national capital region’s quality of life?

The answer: Think regionally.

For too long, local leaders have been able to adopt an “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” attitude. But this mindset is no longer sustainable. Our public, private, philanthropic/nonprofit, and academic sectors need to come together and work together to ensure that we are setting the region up not only to survive, but also to thrive in the future.

The Washington region is known best for its federal presence, but not for any other real global dynamic. What are we doing to correct this? Currently, not enough. Our long-term dependence on government funding has resulted in a regional culture that lacks an entrepreneurial spirit and savvy in responding to market change. This needs to change if we are to compete with other cities and in the global economy. Our region must work together to find ways to attract new industries to the area and maintain the talented workforce that is already living in this area. For example, Maryland is home to world-class research centers like the National Institutes of Health, and Montgomery County alone is home to more than 350 bioscience companies. In 2014, Virginia had the second-highest concentration of tech workers in the nation. If we leverage the resources and talent of both states, we could create one of the greatest biotech clusters in the world. But we have yet to capitalize on our collaboration potential. If we don’t start thinking and acting as a region, other metropolitan areas that do will continue to surge ahead of us.

Just a few years ago, our region’s economy was No. 4 nationally and about to overtake Chicago to be No. 3. Now, it has fallen to No. 6 and faces stiff competition from other regions that have gotten their acts together to compete globally.

Our terrific workforce, exemplary education centers, and other resources set us up well to compete, but we must shift our focus from local to regional and adopt top-down decision-making over bottom-up if we are to succeed in this new environment. This will require developing strong public-private partnerships and providing an infrastructure that can support these changes.

Our current transportation infrastructure is a mess and cannot be ignored if we wish to maintain our current workforce and attract new talent and businesses. We need to be working on fixing our Metro system and getting another river crossing. At a recent event, "Dulles Matters," Gov. Terry McAuliffe echoed the need for another river crossing, stating that it would improve the vitality of the Dulles airport and the region. Increased activity at Dulles and a major public project would spur economic development and create jobs. But in order to get another river crossing built, we need Gov. Larry Hogan and Maryland to come to the table.

These are the kinds of projects we need to be planning for and implementing if we want to move our region forward. We need to stop thinking about what is politically correct today and start thinking about what needs to get done for tomorrow. The Washington region will always be a special place to live, work, play, and learn, but things are changing and we need to take action to ensure that our quality of life is maintained and even improved. More of us need to participate, step up, and speak out about what we want our region to be in the future. We cannot afford to take what we have for granted, and we must think regionally.

Bob Buchanan, a principal at Gaithersburg developer Buchanan Partners LLC, is president and founder of the 2030 Group, an association of Washington’s top business leaders focused on regional long-term decision-making and solutions.