A group of 17 CEOs from enterprises stretching from Baltimore to Washington and Richmond are creating an organization to promote the region's strengths and work toward shared interests in infrastructure, jobs and economic development.
Announced Wednesday, the Greater Washington Partnership aims to improve collaboration between Maryland, Virginia and Washington, to elevate the region's status as an economic leader and move the needle on issues such as transportation and job training that could make the area even more attractive to employers and workers.
"Complex issues like infrastructure, workforce development and our region's global identity cannot be solved by government or the nonprofit community alone," said Peter Scher, chairman of the Washington, region for JPMorgan Chase, and a vice chair of the Greater Washington Partnership. "We believe business leaders in the region have a responsibility to their companies, employees and communities to invest in solutions that drive growth and create greater economic opportunity."
The group is made up of top leadership from some of the region's largest and most influential businesses and organizations, including the Carlyle Group, EY, and Monumental Sports & Entertainment, Ted Leonsis' collection of professional sports teams. Baltimore-area executives include Under Armour CEO Kevin Plank, Johns Hopkins University President Ronald J. Daniels, T. Rowe Price Group President and CEO Bill Stromberg and MedStar Health CEO Ken Samet.
While it is not a new idea, the initiative has the potential to elevate the brand and economic power of a region that, combined, is the third largest metropolitan area, with 10.3 million residents and $644 billion in gross regional product, plus multiple major professional sports teams, economists said.
What's more, it comes against a political backdrop that could be particularly receptive to such a push from business leaders, with a Republican, business-friendly governor at the helm in Maryland and a president-elect who pegged infrastructure and transportation as top priorities.
"It catches investors' attention when you talk about the scale," said Stephen Fuller, a professor of public policy at George Mason University. "It gives you bragging rights Baltimore wouldn't have on its own and Washington wouldn't have on its own. The brand is better."
The idea for the group stemmed from the Washington region's 2024 Olympic bid committee, said Russ Ramsey, chairman and CEO of Ramsey Asset Management, a Reston, Va.-based hedge fund company. Ramsey served as chair of the Olympic bid committee and is chair of the Greater Washington Partnership, along with Scher.
Though the area's bid to host the Olympics failed, Ramsey said, the experience proved the value of bringing together business leaders to collectively work for the good of the area.
Some of the business executives who were involved in that effort have signed on to be part of the new regional partnership, including Plank, Leonsis and Mark Weinberger, CEO of the accounting and consulting giant EY.
The group will focus on four areas: infrastructure and transportation, job training and education, advancing the region's status as an innovation and business hub, and establishing a leadership role in key industries.
Ramsey and Scher said they weren't ready to talk about specific plans or projects the group would push. But the group will in the coming months debut plans "that we believe could really move the needle in some of the challenges that exist around the region," Ramsey said.
Infrastructure and transportation will be an important and early priority, they said.
The area lacks a regional transportation plan, which could make a big difference in the way employees commute and companies attract new hires, and whether businesses decide to settle here, Scher said.
"As you think about how to attract the kind of workforce these CEOs need, how do we have a transportation infrastructure to match it," Scher said.
Without committing to specifics, Scher and Ramsey said high-speed rail and maglev would be part of any conversation about improving transportation.
Infrastructure and transportation is one area in which the group could make a difference, said Richard Clinch, the executive director of the University of Baltimore's Jacob France Institute.
President-elect Donald J. Trump has said that during his first 100 days he will work with lawmakers on legislation for $1 trillion in infrastructure spending over the coming decade, signaling transportation will be a priority for his administration.
Maryland was awarded $30 million in federal seed money in 2015 to study a high-speed maglev rail corridor between Baltimore and Washington, a transportation project Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan has taken special interest in. A Japanese-backed group called Northeast Maglev has proposed a line between Washington and Baltimore to prove the technology's viability for the entire Northeast Corridor.
By banding together, Maryland, D.C., and Virginia increase their chances of receiving a welcome reception, Clinch said. Transportation projects that bring together multiple jurisdictions are typically better received by federal transportation regulators than when jurisdictions pitch separate projects, he said.
Hogan welcomed the partnership.
"Since taking office, our administration has been focused on how to create more jobs and opportunities for Maryland citizens," Hogan said in a statement. "Having business leaders working together to address our region's important economic development issues is a powerful asset for growing and attracting business in our region."
Aside from any one project or initiative, the group will aim to combine the region's resources and strengths, which could help raise Baltimore's profile as one of its biggest employers embarks on a development project that could bring thousands of jobs to the city and spur significant economic growth.
Port Covington, a $5.5 billion project by the private development company of Under Armour's Plank, includes expanded headquarters for the Baltimore-based athletic apparel brand, shops, restaurants, housing, offices and manufacturing space. In September, Baltimore City Council approved a $660 million infrastructure financing package for the project.
The group's priorities — transportation, job training, economic scale — will benefit the project by improving Baltimore's and Under Armour's connectivity outside the region, said Tom Geddes, CEO of Plank Industries, Plank's private investment firm.
"Treating Baltimore as an island we've seen before is not effective in addressing the city's challenges or leveraging its assets," Geddes said. "We see this as a way to make sure Baltimore isn't sitting on an island."
Baltimore is absent from the group's name, but Ramsey said it is not intended as a slight.
"The goal is going back to our experience with the Olympic bid — we connected the region through unity," he said. "It's a soundbite versus the true mission."
The organization's website and marketing materials all splash "from Baltimore to Richmond" below the group's name. And everything the partnership does will be about the region as a whole, he said.
"While Baltimore has always been the state's primary job hub, it is vital that Baltimore be part of a larger vision to ensure our city both supports and benefits from the growth around us," Baltimore Mayor Catherine E. Pugh said in a statement.
In a statement, Plank said, Baltimore's competitiveness "can be maximized through region-wide coordination on key strategic priorities, including infrastructure and workforce development."
The Greater Washington Partnership isn't the first time a group of CEOs have thought to join forces to promulgate economic growth. The Baltimore-Washington Regional Association in the 1980s and early 1990s, for example, worked to market the area's population and workforce as one, rather than two, smaller markets.
Such initiatives have had varied success, but are worth trying, Clinch said.
"Does this make sense? Yes. Has it been tried before? Yes. Has it had success? Jury's out," he said. "I think there's a lot of potential for working together."