Washington Redefined (It's About Time)

Washington is much more than a government town, but its main strength of diversity may also be its weakness

P> In its 10 years of existence, Washington Technology has trumpeted the Washington region as the nexus of the information age economy. Most said, "Yeah, right," and went about their business. But many are beginning to listen. Even The Washington Post, for all its failings as a source of business news, has increased its coverage of the local high-tech community. We note with mixed feelings the Post's rip-off of our trademark, Washington Technology, in its Monday tabloid business column "WashTech."

We exist as a business publication because of the following set of facts: The region spawned the Internet, and today it dominates the Internet access business. The $15 billion satellite communications business is clustered around the Beltway, as are the headquarters of defense and aerospace giants such as Lockheed Martin/Loral. The world's largest information archives, at the Library of Congress and elsewhere, are based here. The single biggest source of R&D and purchaser of information technology -- the federal government -- is all around us. Nearly every high-tech company keeps a lobbying office or major operation in the region. The central role of Washington regulators in telecommunications has attracted telephone giants, including MCI, and some of the hottest companies in areas such as personal communication services.

Finally, professional services and systems integration firms -- a peculiar industry spawned by government contracts for complex information systems -- supply the technical talent that fuels their own and other businesses. Just look at any Sunday employment section of The Washington Post and you'll see page after page of ads for engineers and programmers. This belies the belief, which is prevalent in Silicon Valley, that people around the Beltway couldn't program their way out of a wet paper bag.

Admittedly, these companies harbor a different kind of creativity. A systems integrator's key skill is understanding the cultural and economic impact of inserting information technology into organizations. Its primary assets walk on two legs. Mark Filteau, president of the Information & Engineering Technology group at DynCorp, summed it up nicely. "The Silicon Valley people are like guys who make storm doors for houses. We're the guys who actually build the house."

Washington Technology is the only publication that serves this diverse community of interests. That diversity is the region's primary strength. But diversity is also a weakness, because in combination with the fractured politics of two states and one District of Columbia, it has made defining the region as a community extremely difficult.

Enough is enough; the circle has been squared. Washington is much, much more than a government town. Those who don't get it by now probably never will.

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