Yesterday, I (Dave Oberting, Executive Director of Economic Growth DC) conducted a telephone interview with Michael Neibauer of the Washington Business Journal. His article ran online yesterday as well. There is a link to the piece below. While I was quoted correctly and in context, there were a couple of things that I said in-artfully and I’d like to clarify those comments:
First off, I consider Phil Mendelson to be a good person and a good chairman who cares deeply about the city. In the article, I said I was shocked that Phil would refer to business owners as “not being truthful” as it relates to their compliance with a mandate to provide paid sick leave for their employees. As mentioned, it was in-artful, but there is an important point to be made. Warranted or not, the District does have a reputation of being a difficult place to do business. Some of this is policy oriented, but the rhetoric of public officials does matter. When businesses already in the District hear those kinds of comments from elected officials it makes them nervous and is counterproductive if you’re trying to foster a business climate that will maximize growth and the tax revenues that come with it. It doesn’t have to be, and shouldn’t be, an us versus them mentality. Entrepreneurs who might be considering starting a business or moving one to the District look closely at the political atmosphere in the places they’re considering. In addition to the tax and regulatory climate, they pay attention to the things elected officials say. If they come across as even inadvertently hostile to private enterprise, that could negatively impact an entrepreneur’s decision to base a business here.
So, I stand by the comment, and it is part of the reason we brought EGDC into existence, but I wish the tone was different. We are not interested in burning anything down. We want to work within the existing system to make DC a better and easier place to do business. We think this will help accelerate the rate of growth of the District’s economy and ultimately generate more tax revenue for the District’s leaders to use to make DC a better place for all of our residents.
Secondly, I’d like to expand on my comments about the DC Chamber of Commerce. I’ve never met or spoken with Barbara Lang, but I know she has been an important leader and voice of the business community for many years. Many people, including Mr. Neibauer, have asked me how we’re different from the Chamber and how we fit into the landscape of DC political and economic life. We’re so new as an organization that we’re still trying to figure out exactly where we fit in, but I definitely do not consider us to be a competitor of the Chamber of Commerce. For one, we’re not a membership organization, so you don’t “join” Economic Growth DC. We will most likely join the Chamber and I certainly wouldn’t join an organization I consider to be a competitor. For another, we have a much narrower focus. The Chamber represents its members’ interests on a plethora of issues. We will be focused almost exclusively on issues that have a near and long term impact on economic growth.