Exec Director Departs Greater Washington Initiative

Tim Priest, the executive director of the Greater Washington Initiative, announced yesterday that he is stepping down after nine years with the marketing affiliate of the Greater Washington Board of Trade.

Priest is scheduled to leave Sept. 14 to become chief executive of a similar group in Oregon called Greenlight Greater Portland. He has roots in the region and said he appreciates its quality of life and emphasis on environmental issues.

His departure comes as business leaders debate what direction to take the local initiative in the future. Because the labor pool is so tight in certain industries, some companies are concerned about backing marketing efforts aimed at luring even more new businesses to the region.

As the initiative's chief for the past 2-1/2 years, Priest spearheaded several studies on the area's workforce that could be used to attract companies to the Washington region. But the tight labor picture has made that task increasingly difficult.

"It certainly played a part in my own decision," he said. "I felt I could do more and have a bigger impact somewhere else."

He added: "When the unemployment rate is down to 3 percent and salaries begin to rise and you have high housing costs, companies think twice about a major announcement and even in some cases they may move companies out of the region."

Priest is the second economic development guru to move out of the Washington area in recent weeks. In July, George Mason University professor Richard Florida, a prominent urban thinker who made the case for the region's economy by emphasizing its highly-educated "creative" workforce, said he was leaving to take a job at the University of Toronto.

The Greater Washington Initiative, which has an budget of about $2 million a year, is slated to continue at least through the end of 2008. The Washington Post Co. is one of several local corporations that helps fund the effort.

Jim Dinegar, president and chief executive of the Board of Trade, said he hopes to have a new executive director in place by November. He credited Priest with raising "the visibility of GWI" as a result of the publicity his research attracted.

Priest's departure shouldn't undo any of the progress the initiative has achieved, Dinegar added.

"It was about the greater Washington economy and having a great story to tell, not just a great storyteller," he said.

--Zachary A. Goldfarb

By Dan Beyers  |  September 4, 2007; 6:37 PM ET
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