Environment Takes Its Place on Board's Agenda

For the past year, since taking over as president of the Greater Washington Board of Trade, Jim Dinegar has been on a listening tour of the region, meeting with business, government and educational leaders to find out what's on their minds.

From those conversations, Dinegar says he has assembled a short list of key regional issues for the advocacy organization that includes a relative newcomer: stewardship of the environment.

At first glance, stewardship of the environment may not seem like a core business consideration, but Dinegar said the Board of Trade sees it as a unifying cause that crosses state and county lines and makes good business sense.

In a tight job market, companies will need to use green policies, buildings and culture as a recruiting tool, Dinegar said. The group expects the region to add 319,000 new jobs by 2012, according to its annual regional report.

"If you have two companies going after the same person and they are the same except that one has a strong stance on environmental awareness, people entering the job market today will naturally go for the green business," Dinegar said, over lunch at the Hay Adams Hotel in downtown Washington. Board of Trade head of communications Marie Tibor, who plans to leave the group next month, also attended the lunch.

Dressed in a crisp navy suit and gold tie, Dinegar, a regular at the hotel restaurant, was greeted three times by Hay Adams staff. Before lunch was served, he negotiated with a hotel events coordinator to reserve a conference room for a Board of Trade meeting with Travelocity's chief executive.

Dinegar said that because the Washington area has one of the nation's lowest unemployment rates -- around 3 percent -- and a highly educated population, environmentalism will only increase in importance for companies.
In that vein, the Board of Trade has made "green business strategies" the focus of its annual Potomac Conference, scheduled for Oct. 29 -30. At the invitation-only event for business, government, non-profit and academic leaders, Maryland Governor Martin O'Malley, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine and District Mayor Adrian Fenty will appear on the same panel, Dinegar said.

A more familiar issue for the 118-year-old organization -- which is expanding its focus beyond its roots in the District of Columbia into the region's fast-growing suburbs -- is transportation.

Dinegar said the board is pressing for Metrorail extensions, including a link to Tysons Corner, and creative solutions like waterway transportation between major destinations like the National Harbor in Prince George's county, the Nationals ballpark, Alexandria and Georgetown.

Another key issue for the board is emergency preparedness, a local priority since the Sept. 11 attacks, Dinegar said. The group has pushed training programs to help businesses develop continuity plans.

Asked about the impact of the global credit crunch that has felled dozens of financial companies across the United States and prevented the sales of others, Dinegar said he is in a wait and see mode for the effects on the Washington region.

"We're insulated because our economy is so diversified from tourism to the federal government, to high tech to biosciences," he said. "But we're keeping a watch on the situation."
-- Cecilia Kang

By Mike Shepard  |  September 12, 2007; 6:11 PM ET  | Category:  Economy
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