If D.C. Mayor Vincent Gray gets his way, employment and commerce should soon be looking up in Washington D.C.’s Ward 8, the long-neglected southeast corner of the city, under an initiative called “forWARD 8: Investing in Our Future.”

Under the initiative unveiled Feb. 26, Gray said he is calling for $2.5 million in the upcoming D.C. budget to be directed to boosting employment and economic development in the ward, which accounts for much of D.C.’s southeastern quadrant.

The region has long been regarded as often-ignored by District agencies and is plagued by the highest unemployment rates in the District.

Gray (D), along with Deputy Mayor of Planning and Economic Development Victor L. Hoskins, and Office of Planning (OP) interim Director Rosalynn Hughey Jan. 26, detailed what they believe is a fresh approach to career-training, jobs and economic development for Ward 8.

“The forWARD 8 initiative will do exactly what its name implies – move Ward 8 forward through close partnerships between District agencies and the community,” said Gray in a statement. “This initiative will help Ward 8 residents find jobs, build careers and create new businesses.”

And if Gray’s economic vision is included in the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, which is also an election year for the mayor and council, the dismal economic trend east of the Anacostia River could be reversed, beginning with unemployment.

The jobless rate, currently put at 17 percent by federal and city labor officials, was as high as 26 percent over the last three years. “We want to see that number continue to drop, because we really have to work on this chronic unemployment issue for the ward.” Hughey said.

“Some of the key priorities for the ward, as is for most of east of the river, is jobs and job training, getting people placed in jobs, small business development and improvements in infrastructures and the commercial corridors,” she said.

The mayor’s vision will be addressed in four projects, she said.

The Center for Construction Careers project is to focus on training unemployed Ward 8 residents who are interested in the construction industry. The goal of the $350,000 project is to train and place between 30 and 40 people in the infrastructure construction for the St. Elizabeth’s East Campus project that is set to begin this year.

The initiative also is to include a culinary and entrepreneurship training program with Department of Employment Services (DOES) training in the classroom and kitchen on advanced culinary methods. This $250,000 project is to train 10 to 15 residents who will be matched with local dining and catering businesses in the city, according to city officials.

An entrepreneurship program is to provide training for men and women interested in starting businesses. About $110,000 would be earmarked for the program to train between 20 and 30 Ward 8 residents, the city said.

Another $1.75 million is to go toward what Gray officials call a Demonstration Center project to provide more entrepreneurship and workforce development, city officials said. The project would connect residents and local businesses to technology and educational programs and would offer computer training to seniors, small business owners and others.

Under the initiative, a Ward 8 Business Directory is to be developed to highlight small businesses in the ward. That is expected to cost about $44,000, Gray officials said.


Maria Adebola

Special to the AFRO