The region's economic development leaders said Wednesday that although Washington is a big draw for new business, spurring growth locally is the key to independence from federal government spending.

Officials from Northern Virginia, the District and Maryland appeared on a panel at the Metropolitan Washington Council of Governments' monthly meeting. They all touted the area's highly educated work force as one of their top assets to companies looking to relocate to the region.

For all jurisdictions, fostering entrepreneurial growth and startup companies was identified as a key to growing jobs here as the federal government is expected to tighten up its spending beginning in 2013.

Last month, George Mason University Economist Stephen Fuller told the board the region could face a mini recession if it did not invest in private sector growth.

But helping the region's top private industries -- like health care, technology and education -- create more jobs has been a challenge.

In Maryland, there's a disconnect between the research coming out of the state's prized research institutions that include Johns Hopkins University and the University of Maryland and then using those ideas to create new businesses.

"We're getting a lot of research dollars [but] we're not really capitalizing on that to commercialize the research that's done," said Dominick Murray, the state deputy secretary for business and economic development, said Wednesday. "There's this kind of belief [among some] that it's kind of tacky to make money off your research. We're trying to reframe that."

Brian Kinner, chief of staff for D.C.'s deputy mayor for economic development, said the District's biggest challenge to growing and attracting companies is the city's own economic and educational divide. For example, the average household income in some Northwest neighborhoods is more than four times household incomes across the Anacostia River.

"We have a structural imbalance," he said. "Some areas of the city are incredibly well-abled and well- connected to take advantage ... and we have areas where we are not."

In Northern Virginia, Washington Dulles International Airport was identified as a key growth for the cargo and shipping industry in the state. But the road infrastructure is ill-equipped to handle the business.

Terry Holzheimer, Arlington County's economic development director, also noted that jurisdictions' tendency to compete with each other impedes regional progress. When a company moves from the suburbs to the District, and vice versa, it doesn't impact the region.

"None of this is producing jobs," he said. "All it does is move the chairs."