- The Washington Times - Wednesday, January 31, 2001

Washington's corporate executives are generally happier and more optimistic about working in the nation's capital than they were five years ago, but the city must do more to improve housing and schools, according to a survey released yesterday.

The survey, conducted by DC Business Connections, a retention program that is part of the Washington, DC Marketing Center, involved interviews of 300 executives starting in April. Of those interviewed, 88 percent said they were "somewhat to very positive" about doing business in the District, and 79 percent said they felt the city's business climate is "somewhat to much better" than it was five years ago.

The findings were announced yesterday at the headquarters of www.Blackboard.com, a company that provides Internet infrastructure to schools, with District Mayor Anthony A. Williams in attendance.

"[Mayor Williams'] vision and support has resulted in a program that helps determine the needs of existing businesses and facilitates partnerships to retain them in the District," said Michael Stevens, president of the Washington, DC Marketing Center.

DC Business Connections' mission is to provide local companies with a forum to communicate with the city government and nonprofit economic development groups.

"This initial experience with DC Business Connections let us know that when we have concerns and/or opinions, someone is listening and taking action on our behalf," said Alica Overton, vice president of the Sugar Association Inc., a District-based firm that promotes the sale and use of sugar.

Mr. Stevens called the survey results a good sign.

"Ladies and gentlemen, this is the future of the economy and the future of the city as well," he said. "We think we have done a lot on behalf of the District with the finite resources we have."

Mayor Williams, a Democrat, agreed. "My overall impression is that we are going in the right direction," he said.

The survey also found that 90 percent of CEOs in the District rated the city's airport facilities "good to excellent" and 80 percent of executives rated the city's public transportation system "good to excellent."

Several survey responses, however, indicated that the city has much work to do, particularly in improving housing and public schools. Just over half of those interviewed said that more than 75 percent of their employees have chosen to live outside the city. Furthermore, 50 percent of those interviewed rated the District's public school system "poor."

Mr. Williams acknowledged these shortfalls yesterday, and vowed to keep plugging away at plans to increase and improve affordable housing while working to better the public schools.

Mr. Stevens said DC Business Connections will continue to interview CEOs of businesses in the District each year.

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