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Tech and Real Estate Could Power City's Resurgence

Barrington M. Salmon | 11/22/2011, 1:36 a.m.
Gregory Baldwin, (left) CEO and founder of Helping Hands, Inc., a nonprofit organization, spreads the Thanksgiving Day spirit at Barry Farm on Saturday, Nov. 19, 2011. Baldwin handed out holiday bags of food to members of the community. Photo by Victor Holt

Several panelists at a D.C. Chamber of Commerce-sponsored policy forum expressed the belief that technology and real estate will be the drivers for the District's economic renaissance.

The forum was the second such gathering this year and more than 75 people filled Reed Smith's East Tower penthouse on K Street in Northwest.

"Real estate and technology are crucial to the District's economic well-being as they drive growth and productivity in the city," asserted A. Scott Bolden, managing partner of Reed Smith LLP, and the person who welcomed the participants and audience.

Panelist Anthony A. Lewis agreed.

"There's lots of things happening in the tech world ... we're in a hyper-competitive world. Huge opportunities exist in all aspects of life. We have built the biggest information highway in history and we're preparing for the increased technology opportunities that are becoming available," said Lewis, vice president of government affairs for Verizon's Mid-Atlantic Region. "With the right regulatory environment, we can increase opportunities and partnerships ... don't tie our hands with the old regulatory structure."

Chamber CEO Barbara Lang urged city officials and business leaders to continue working closely together as the employment and economic climate changes.

"The past few years have been difficult ones. Businesses have had struggles. As the dust settles, we want to make sure people are poised to take advantage of the new economy," Lang said. "There are smart choices that actively position the city for real changes. We must work on our strengths and shore up the weaknesses. We will look at these two industries and their impact."

The discussion was moderated by D.C. Mayor Vincent C. Gray (D) who Lang said had encouraged the Chamber to arrange other forums because of the success of the first one. Gray, 67, said he listened closely to the elite panel of businesspeople and to the questions from the audience on how to move the city forward. In his opening comments, Gray outlined the plethora of projects that dot the city's landscape.

"We had a deep recession over the past two years. There were 14 projects on the agenda at the beginning of the year. City Center at the old Convention Center site got financing. It is the biggest hole I've ever seen. It will have retail, residential; it will be a community unto itself."

Gray also discussed Michigan Market which is being developed in concert with Catholic University. The $200 million project will boast one million square feet with what he called 'unique and different' residences, artist studios and other amenities. The mayor said the $2 billion worth of projects currently underway around the city has translated into 3,700 construction jobs and 5,200 permit jobs.

By 2015, he said, projects at St. Elizabeths in Southeast and development of the Walter Reed Hospital complex in Northwest will generate $11 billion and produce 50,000 construction jobs.

Gray said there are about 2,000 technology businesses in the District that have attracted $71 million in venture capital so far this year.

He admitted that while the District strives to become a technology center, there are distinct challenges that must be overcome for that to become a reality. The first of these is to provide an educated and capable workforce with the technical and technological skills that tech businesses need.

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