New High-Tech Group Seeks An Identity

Northern Virginia creates a new non-profit to tackle its high-tech identity problem

he architects of Northern Virginia's technology business community are tired of being overlooked in the global marketplace and have banded together to do something about it.

They call themselves the Northern Virginia Project and are pooling their resources to help redefine the world's perception of the information age, and the role suburban Washington, D.C., will play in the future of high-tech business.

Leading the group is high-tech business magnate Mario Morino, who called the leaders together on a Saturday in the first week of June to draft a mission statement for the private, non-profit organization. BTG Inc. President and CEO Ed Bersoff, vice chairman of the new organization, said its mission is rather simple:

"We want to promote the identity of the region, which will include promoting the tech businesses in the region," Bersoff said. "To me, the Northern Virginia Technology Council is more of a trade association while this project will be oriented toward promoting commerce."

To do this, Morino, Bersoff, and a team of high-tech industry leaders have been passing the hat searching for financial and moral support. At $10,000 per company, the Northern Virginia Project has earned more than $325,000 in just a matter of weeks.

"It's apparent by how quickly we raised that money that we are all on the same wavelength," he said, adding that they want $500,000 to launch the project.

With a bit of imagination, the list of high-tech heavy hitters behind Morino reads like the 1929 New York Yankee's batting roster: DynCorp President and CEO Dan Bannister; EDS Corporate Vice President and CEO George Newstrom; former BDM President and CEO Earle Williams; Virginia Center of Innovative Technology Director Robert Templin; and April Young of George Mason University's Business Roundtable, among others.

Bersoff said that those businesses got into the project "simply because if we promote the identity of the region, companies like mine, BDM and PRC will benefit."

And the global identity of Northern Virginia is a problem.

Currently, Silicon Valley, the Route 128 business corridor near Boston, and the Research Triangle in Northern Carolina are all tag lines for high-tech communities in those regions of the county. But ever since Fortune magazine coined the phrase 15 months ago, Northern Virginia has been fumbling with "the Netplex," a term that is almost universally disliked.

"Netplex is certainly not it," Bersoff said, adding that it doesn't include all the elements of the region's high-tech community. "I like Capital Gateway Region, personally."

But there's more to Northern Virginia's identity problem than a name, according to Williams. He said that the rest of the world does not understand Northern Virginia's key high-tech product. He called it "information technology."

"Currently, we put no price tag on intellectual property," he said. "Take, for example, when we export software: When they assess the value of the product, they just determine the value of the floppy disc and not the information on that disc. Imagine that."

Williams said that the information content is of critical value and must be part of the economic process. He used Computer Associates' recent $1.5 billion bid for Legent Corp. to make his point.

"What did C.A. buy when they paid $1.5 billion for Legent Corp. last month?" he said. "Sure, they'll tell you they bought access into a market, and they bought services, but what they really bought were intellectual products."

Williams and Bersoff agreed that the "third wave" or next commerce revolution is taking hold in the country.

"This is the age of knowledge engineering," Bersoff said.

"The area of the Industrial Revolution is dead," Williams said. "The time for debate is over and it's time for us to move on. We have to tell people who we are, what we are, and what Northern Virginia is about."


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