Global Perspective on Regional Collaboration

On any given weekend, there are countless community events throughout the Greater Washington region, many in ethnically diverse immigrant communities. A Korean church service, an Indian American business conference, a Chinese choral concert and an Iranian Nowruz celebration, whether held in Maryland or Virginia, all draw crowds from the Region’s many counties and cities on both sides of the Potomac River. These “new communities,” as we are often called, frequently travel across county and state lines to be connected with our own communities to worship, to learn, and to have a good time. These activities and events add much vitality to local living.

The Washington Metropolitan area is one of the most transient metropolises in the country, with transplants and migrants defining and redefining much of the local demographic landscape. In fact, in Montgomery County, where I live and work, one in three residents are from other countries and three out of four are from other states. What attracted many of us from other states or countries to this region was economic and career opportunities and a good quality of life afforded by a metropolitan area. Immigrants like me have no roots in this country and will pursue opportunities wherever they are.

Since 1990, the Washington region’s immigrant population has doubled to about one million people, earning us the name “Edge Gateway”—a phrase used by the Brookings Institution to refer to a region relatively new to immigration but now has a sizable immigrant population. The area’s industry make-up means much of the immigrant workforce is made of high-skilled professionals critical to this region’s economic vitality and our country’s leadership in information technology, life sciences, healthcare, as well as defense, homeland security and other industries where large numbers of talents in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) are needed and advanced degrees are commonplace.

It is no secret that the Asian community, which is three quarters foreign-born, is among the best educated of all communities. For example, according to the American Community Survey 2006-2008, over 63 percent of the Asian population over the age of 25 in Montgomery County has at least a bachelor’s degree and one in three has an advanced degree, exceeding the already high educational levels of the County’s general population (56 percent with bachelor’s degrees and 29 percent with advanced degrees). Their intellectual capital and entrepreneurial spirit are tremendous assets to our knowledge-based industries, and their emphasis on education has contributed to the reputation of our school districts, which are directly tied to our property values!

We are being perceived as a whole region no matter how we see ourselves. The local jurisdictional lines mean nothing to global partners and talents who are here to study, work, invest, and do business. For long-term economic prosperity, we must be open-minded about regional collaboration across jurisdictions, sectors and industries because we all benefit from a thriving region with many thriving communities clustered within close proximity to one another. A vibrant employment base in a neighboring jurisdiction means greater opportunities for our residents, while an excellent school district in our community benefits not just Maryland but also Virginia and beyond, especially when our kids come back after college to settle in the region.

In fact, Maryland is the 5th state or jurisdiction I have lived in, after Indiana, Ohio, West Virginia and Washington, DC. I didn’t settle in Montgomery County because it’s Montgomery, which I had never heard of before, but because it is next to Washington, DC, an international city where I found a job and a lifestyle, and has an excellent school district and beautiful neighborhoods. You can say the same about people choosing Fairfax County, where every one in five of its residents is now Asian.

The fact that Washington, DC has attracted many empty nesters and adults with no children in recent years while families with school-age children have gravitated toward suburbs shows the interdependent nature of the capital region in the life cycles of many individuals and families. Serious regional collaboration on affordable housing, transit, and workforce development is imperative to ensuring that this region does not become a victim of its own success when people cannot afford to live near where they work and have to be stuck in traffic. We all want to remain a magnet to the young people who favor urban living and the best and the brightest from all around the world who will only add to the prosperity of the region. And if we are to solve these issues, we must learn how to effectively engage the immigrant and ethnic minority communities that are becoming the backbone of our economy, whether knowledge-based or service-based.

3 thoughts on “Global Perspective on Regional Collaboration

  1. Below are comments from my article published on The 2030 Group Web site.

    May 1, 2012
    Informative and insightful commentary which addresses some of the most important issues of the moment in the region. I have been in MC for a while now and I see first hand what Lily is talking about. We need more thought-leading-provoking articles likes this because we all need to be aware of the dynamics that are shaping and changing our communities. Well done Lily.

    by Asoka Ranaweera

    May 2, 2012
    As an immigrant from Belgium, I can not agree more with Lily’s assessment of the value of immigrant communities. We all bring the best from our countries of birth and come to the U.S. because it is a diverse society and we want to embrace the American can-do spirit of
    building a better life for ourselves and the community at large. I moved to Montgomery County because it feels like an international community. One out of 3 residents is foreign born.

    by Bernadette Goovaerts

    May 2, 2012
    Lily, from my personal experience, I think you are right on target. On the Johns Hopkins Campus in Montgomery County, for example, we are hosting a thriving bio business innovation center in which many of the companies originated abroad. There’s a fascinating interchange of ideas and cultural experiences that are enriching the dialog and the business and research opportunities because of the diversity here. There is something fresh and dynamic about the mix of cultures and academic backgrounds. In fact, you are responsible for bringing a number of these companies to our attention here.

    by Elaine Amir

    May 5, 2012
    Lily Qi (pronounced “Chee”) is an insightful, outside-the-box creative thinker, and a real visionary. These traits, regrettably, are too infrequently attributable to government employees in Lily’s position.

    Montgomery County is most fortunate to have Lily. And if more counties in the “DiMarVa” (District/Maryland/Virginia) Region had more Lily Qi’s in their governmental offices — thinking REGIONALLY, rather than parochially — then the entire DiMarVa Region could better position itself to compete in the 21st Century’s global economic, political, cultural, and social structures.

    The District and each county in Maryland and Virginia have core assets that can contribute significantly to the international relevance and competitive advantages of the entire DiMarVa Region in the 21st Century’s globalized economy. But the Region will not fully capitalize on its potential competitive advantages if long-standing parochial attitudes are not overcome. The DiMarVa Region’s whole can be exponentially more powerful than the sum of its separate parts. And the structural challenges each jurisdiction faces separately — from job creation, to affordable housing, to education, to environmental stewardship, to transportation infrastructure, to creating quality-of-life communities — can only be solved by regional collaboration.

    We can all learn from Lily Qi’s compelling commentary. Lily speaks from a perspective of a young leader, who has a choice to establsh roots anywhere in the World and make the area where they settle economically. culturally, intellectually, and political powerful. Our Region’s future lies in our ability to attract and retain, and thereby expand our multi-cultural, energetic, creative, and highly-educated workforce, who will be best suited to serve the international demands of the 21st Century’s global economy.

    And a good place for us to start is to recognize what Lily is bring to our attention. The multi-cultural young leaders, who will define our Region’s future, have little desire to limit themselves to the boundaries of one local jurisdiction over another. They seek to embrace and experience all of the opportunities that exist throughout the DiMarVa Region, without any regard to jurisdictional boundaries. The sooner we act on that realization — and approach economic development, housing, education, environmental quality, and transportation as REGIONAL challenges, not isolated parochial problems — the sooner we will become the international destination of choice for the highest educated and productive leaders of tomorrow.

    Thank you, Lily, for highlighting the importance of the region’s potential to attract and retain the best and the brightest from all nationalities and cultures. Our Region’s future depends on it.

    by Jonathan M. Genn

    May 7, 2012
    Insightful post! We immigrants have not only come to the Greater Washington DC area for “a job and lifestyle,” but also to create jobs and global opportunities bridging the two sides of the Pacific (the developed North America and the booming Asia). Some of my friends and myself have seized such regional and global opportunities and have become entrepreneurs /business owners. We are living the vision of the economic growth that Lily Qi embraces in this article.

    by Dawn Li

    May 8, 2012
    The conclusions drawn by Lily Qi about how immigrant communities have successfully bridged the regional gap to connect with other immigrants to learn, worship and celebrate are lessons that should be applied to regional economic development. Without our continued focus on this concept in a regional and broader perspective, it becomes increasingly apparent that important topics like affordable housing, transit and workforce development will not be addressed in the manner they need to be to ensure long-term economic prosperity. By making it easier for immigrant and ethnic minority communities to work, commute and live in this region, we will continue to attract the bright and industrious work force that is essential for the continued development of both knowledge-based and service-based industries.

    by Amy Snyder

    May 15, 2012
    Many thanks for this insightful post, Lily. Through your own experience, you highlight the assets of the DC Metro Area—our capital city, knowledge-based industry strength, and, of course, our invaluable human capital. The world is truly globalized, and states, counties, and municipalities, like private enterprises, should be looking beyond their borders for opportunities to create jobs, build infrastructure, advance knowledge, and generally improve quality of life. Maryland and Virginia have successfully attracted international investment. But with a global vision and working together and with DC in a concerted effort, much more can be gained for the DC Metro Area beyond our individual cities, counties, and states. Emerging economies are hungry for development (not just quantitative growth), and this has created great demand for the knowledge-based offerings that we have in abundance in DC Metro Area. As you say, we have a wealth of experience and energy in our immigrant (and non-immigrant) communities. We need to tap our communities as strategic partners for growth beyond our borders.

    by Hdeel Abdelhady

    May 31, 2012
    In her description of why she chose to live in Montgomery, Lily highlights a way forward for regional collaboration. The ability to attract young people, something that ought not to be a zero-sum game among neighboring jurisdictions, depends upon capturing demographic and cultural shifts. Just as Lily chose Montgomery for its beauty and good schools, young professionals today are adding transit and walkability as some of the key features of the community where they choose to reside. Young people are having children later and buying homes and cars in fewer numbers.

    For the region of D.C. to attract the next crop of young professionals, it must offer better transit access, more dense, walkable communities. And, given the regional nature of the local economy, it must do so as a metropolitan area, not as competing jurisdictions.

    by Drew Morrison

  2. Congrats to Lily for your achievement as a manager. The Chronicle of High Education,Nov.27, 2012 issue published the role of Community Colleges. For “Culture of Learning” elaborations,please search “Keys for Economic Understanding””Keys to Economic Understanding” and “Work and Study Cycle” at book category for information.

    Francis Shieh on November 27, 2012 at 9.50 a.m.

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