Tech and Real Estate Could Power City's Resurgence

Barrington M. Salmon | 11/22/2011, 1:36 a.m.
Several panelists at a D.C. Chamber of Commerce-sponsored policy forum expressed the belief that technology...
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

To that end, Gray and others said, there is now a greater emphasis on developing science, technology and math skills in children at an earlier age. Also, city officials are building capacity in its community colleges and partnering with universities to ensure that tech outfits have a pool of qualified applicants.

Paul Lancaster Adams, senior director of U.S. Government Affairs with Microsoft, spoke of the work he and his colleagues are involved in in District schools.

"This is a digital alliance. We've always had a presence in D.C. but we realize that it's a new day. Innovation, jobs and education are all related. Girls by the nature of how they grow up don't know the opportunities available to them in the tech field ... schools are so important - we're joining the mayor to train the trainers in best practices."

Cindy Troutman, co-founder of CGH Technologies, a woman-owned, privately held small business advocated vigorously for city officials to look for ways to moderate the tax structure, lower the tax burden and court new businesses to the District.

"Since I started the company I wanted to be in the District," she said. "There are many challenges, however. The real estate market is very expensive, which means less competition with government clients and a decreased ability to attract technology workers because of the expensive commute and parking."

"I talk to recruiters constantly and we are falling way behind with out-of-country competitors. It's difficult to do business. We need to encourage and court businesses ... neighborhoods are getting cleaned up, young people want to stay here and technology is coming. A lot has to do with the marketing of that. This will eliminate some of the burden of competition, feed jobs that are already here and create more."

Akridge President Matt Klein expressed similar sentiments.

"For 37 years, Akridge's headquarters has been in Washington, D.C.," he said. "It has a unique appeal to a broad range of businesses. We need a broader set of strategic investments. For example, raising the debt cap would free up $500-$750 million for 'shovel ready' projects."

Between 1995 and 2010, Klein - the Chamber's president-elect - said businesses have generated $2.7 billion in "present tax benefits" and 66,000 jobs. Infrastructure investments such as the District's $99 million street car project, the proposed Silver Line Metro extension, development at Tyson's Corner and increased technology investments have raised the District's and region's profile in positive ways.

He also spoke of Union Station's potential as a transportation hub, the Bike Share program and the increased demand for certain spaces, lifestyle changes and people using more amenities in the buildings in which they work and live.

But factors impeding the District's growth include high property taxes, a morass of stifling regulations, the high cost per square foot of office space, the impact of high fees on local businesses and a less than aggressive effort to go after new business has translated into between $800 million and $1 billion in retail losses to other jurisdictions, said Klein.