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WBJ Exclusive: Greater Washington's localities will work together to win federal funding

To read the original story from Alex Koma on the Washington Business Journal please click here.


By Alex Koma August 2, 2021

Localities across Greater Washington plan to work together to pursue federal funding for regional economic development priorities in a new effort spearheaded by a nonprofit that’s spent the pandemic promoting greater local collaboration.


Connected DMV, an organization of government, business and academic leaders working on regional issues, will launch and manage a joint program office aimed at steering federal money made available by the American Rescue Plan and other Biden administration programs to the D.C. area. The organization is dubbing the new initiative, previewed exclusively to the Washington Business Journal, “We Are Greater Washington.”


The move represents one of the first concrete steps forward for the officials and executives working with Connected DMV, which has spent the last few months rolling out research demonstrating the value of more collaboration among the region’s localities, businesses and educational institutions. The group’s organizers see it as a first-of-its-kind effort to advocate for the region’s priorities at the federal level, and a prime way for Connected DMV to build its capacity — the organization plans to devote staff members and funding directly to this work.


“Will we win a bigger share of these federal funds as a result of doing this?” said Stu Solomon, the president and CEO of Connected DMV and a former Accenture executive. “We believe we will.”


As for what the region could reasonably work on together, Solomon said some projects will make sense for individual localities to pursue, but this new office could target those that will affect everyone around D.C. The latest Covid stimulus plan steered $3 billion to the U.S. Economic Development Administration specifically for regional projects aimed at economic recovery from the pandemic, a pot of money Solomon hopes to pursue aggressively. But he suspects this partnership would be able to coordinate on all manner of federal opportunities, particularly any funding included in the bipartisan infrastructure bill making its way through Congress or in President Joe Biden’s broader budget proposal.


The pandemic research center Connected DMV is already exploring establishing with Montgomery County’s help could be a prime candidate for federal funds, Solomon said. Or perhaps another research center aimed at developing a “hydrogen-based economy” or other key climate programs, he suggested, or workforce training programs at the region’s community colleges.


David Iannucci, head of the Prince George’s County Economic Development Corp. and one of the co-chairs of Connected DMV’s economic development-focused working group, is pitching a new quantum-computing-focused research center at the University of Maryland. He suspects “nobody’s better positioned around the country to create an ecosystem” around the emerging field, and Connected DMV can help him make that case to federal agencies.


Broadly, Iannucci sees this new regional collaboration as being especially important for Prince George’s. He believes there have been a variety of instances where the county “has the best resources or is the best competitor but has been passed over for reasons that are inexplicable.” If the region can agree it’s time to distribute more federal money to a historically under-resourced, majority-Black community, Iannucci thinks that will go a long way toward addressing racial inequities in the region.


“With the debates over inclusiveness and equity happening nationally, we’re seeing an increased focus on the east-west divide locally,” Iannucci said. “I hope this is one way to fix that.”


Naturally, Iannucci has a new FBI headquarters in Greenbelt at the top of his list on that front. He believes the county has the stronger case to make for a relocated HQ on the merits (better Metro access, a chance to send cars in the opposite direction on the Beltway than if the FBI headed to Springfield) but he also thinks the whole region would benefit by lifting up Prince George’s with such a project. This new Connected DMV group would be empowered to make that case at the federal level.


“Our friends across river are outstanding competitors and they’re not going to roll over just because we’re doing this,” Iannucci said. “But there’s a broader argument to make.”


Solomon said he has yet to hammer out many of the details around staffing the office, suggesting some portion of Connected DMV’s 22-person staff would manage grant applications and other technicalities associated with the work. Iannucci said he envisions a three-member team for the office initially, but Solomon said that number could scale up or down based on how many projects are up for funding consideration at any one time.


The nonprofit, funded with a mixture of donations and grants to the tune of a $3.5 million budget, will manage the work in-house. But Iannucci said he’ll keep a close eye on its direction and offer frequent suggestions with other members of the economic development committee — Victor Hoskins, head of the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, helped launch the group, bringing on Iannucci and John Falcicchio, D.C.’s deputy mayor for planning and economic development, as co-chairs.


“I’m tired of being told we’re underperforming as a region, but we are,” Iannucci said. “But I am hoping, I hope not foolishly, that this mechanism will allow us to achieve some of our goals.”