- The Washington Times - Wednesday, October 12, 2016

The D.C. metropolitan area can no longer rely on the federal government for economic growth and must attract business from across the country and around the world, regional leaders said Wednesday.

It would be dangerous to continue to rely on the federal government and its contractors to drive the economy, especially with the threat of federal budget cuts and a Congress that has long had trouble passing an annual budget, the trio of leaders said.

“The biggest issue we face in this region is sequestration,” said Virginia Gov. Terry McAuliffe, a Democrat. “This is a gigantic hurricane coming at us.”

Sequestration refers to automatic, across-the-board spending cuts that stem from the 2013 Budget Control Act that are in place until 2021. The Congressional Budget Office predicted the total reduction in federal discretionary spending to be about $1.1 trillion if sequestration stays in effect. Entitlements such as Social Security are not affected by sequestration.

“Our economy is a double-edged sword,” said Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican. “We benefit from the federal government, but we rely too much on it. We can’t live by that alone.”

D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser, a Democrat, said the tech industry is rife with opportunity, and the District could breed its own talent while also inviting young companies to set up shop in the city. She said the District needs to “put its flag in the ground” of the tech world.

“Underrepresented entrepreneurs have a place in D.C.,” she said.

And once a critical mass of young tech talent move to the city for work, they can, in turn, found their own companies that also benefit the city and region, Miss Bowser said.

The three leaders met Wednesday at the Capital Region Business Forum to highlight the metropolitan area’s economic success.

The region could look abroad for businesses to invest in the area. Mr. McAuliffe and Miss Bowser said trips they have taken to Cuba, China and the Middle East have shown that the region can market itself outside the United States.

“We need to brand the region across the globe,” said Miss Bowser, who has traveled to Cuba and China in the last year. “I got a taste of how to market the region in Cuba.”

Miss Bowser went on a five-day visit to Cuba to see how the District could benefit from recently loosened U.S. restrictions on trade with and commercial travel to the communist-run island nation. She was joined by Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggett and Maurice Jones, Virginia secretary of commerce and trade. In November she traveled to China with 16 local business leaders to explore ways to attract Chinese investors to the District.

Mr. Hogan said that 24 Israeli companies do business in Maryland and that, after having visited Israel, he thinks others could be willing to give the region a chance.

“The whole issue of diversifying our economy, it’s a must for all three of us,” Mr. McAuliffe said. “International trade is a sweet spot for all of us.”

Northern Virginia’s economy especially relies on the federal government. According to a 2015 Northern Virginia Regional Commission study, Northern Virginia received $219 billion, or about three-quarters of all federal contracts in the state from 2010 to 2014. By itself, Northern Virginia ranks higher than every state in federal contracting dollars except California.

However, Northern Virginia saw a $9 billion decrease in federal contracts between 2011 and 2014, mostly due to budget cuts to military contracts.

“This sequestration trigger will have the most devastating effect on D.C., Maryland and Virginia,” Mr. McAuliffe said. “It’s a multiple of what we went through in 2011-2013. It’s devastating to the community.”

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