Region's Chieftains See Chesapeake Crescent Overtaking Silicon Valley

By WILL SKOWRONSKI, Capital News Service

WASHINGTON (Jan. 30, 2008) - Maryland, Virginia and the District could be humming with high-tech commerce if plans for a new "Chesapeake Crescent" partnership materialize as the region's leaders sketched out Tuesday.

Gov. Martin O'Malley, Rep. Steny Hoyer, Virginia Gov. Tim Kaine, District Mayor Adrian Fenty and other representatives from the region introduced the Chesapeake Crescent Initiative at a news conference.

The plan calls for a public-private partnership to capitalize on the region's federal presence, research universities and educated workforce.

"We are all connected in one way or another," O'Malley said. "The long and short of it is we are much stronger as a region than we can be as one metropolitan region or one state."

California's Silicon Valley and Route 128 outside Boston, George Vradenburg said, are the standard.

"We intend to catch up and pass them," said Vradenburg, a former AOL Time Warner executive.

Vradenburg and Herb Miller, the CEO of Western Development Corp., were named co-vice chairmen of the Chesapeake Crescent, according to a statement. Miller led the idea of opening regional malls dubbed the Mills Concept, which began with the opening of Potomac Mills in Woodbridge, Va., in 1985.

The initiative has four main objectives: growing an innovative economy based on "green technology," energy, and defense contracting; developing clean energy and protecting the environment; improving infrastructure; and building a sustainable partnership.

The group already plans to push the federal government to adopt plug-in hybrid cars, which would create the infrastructure needed in the area to fuel the cars and be a catalyst for private businesses and individuals to do the same. Also, Fenty said he hopes to train workers to fill "green-collar" jobs as the District and private developers build and renovate buildings to be environmentally-friendly.

The idea of a partnership arose, Miller said, during a conversation between him and then Baltimore Mayor O'Malley. The two began talking, Miller said, because they were reading the same book during a flight to a Shopping Center Convention in Las Vegas three years ago.

The partnership sprang from existing efforts between the states to clean up the Chesapeake Bay.

O'Malley came up with the name of the initiative, Miller said, from John Smith's description of the bay as no better place to live.

Even though times have changed, O'Malley said, the Chesapeake region is still one of the most beautiful, creative and dynamic corridors in the United States.

And its population is well positioned to power the economic initiative. Almost 35 percent of the residents of the Chesapeake Crescent have a bachelor's degree, more than the 24 percent nationally, according to a Brookings Institute study.

Also, the gross metropolitan product of the area is more than a half-trillion dollars, which makes up 8 percent of the national total from just about 4 percent of the nation's workforce, according to the same study.

David Edgerley, secretary of Maryland's Department of Business & Economic Development, said it's important to look beyond jurisdictions when strengthening an economic center, noting not many people know what counties make up Silicon Valley in California.

"There is no place on the planet that has the same critical mass of smart people and forward-thinking companies," Edgerley said.

Vradenburg said a regional innovation summit is being planned for later this spring to accelerate collaboration between businesses, federal researchers and universities.

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