It's Hard Being the Envy of the World

Northern Virginia suburbs may think they get no respect, but other areas are envious of their position

P> The Washington Post, in a metro section article Feb. 5 titled, "Business Elite Fret About N. Virginia," suggested the suburbs of Northern Virginia have an identity crisis. They are neither a part of Washington, D.C., nor of Virginia proper, said the article. It also suggested that the suburbs don't have decent political representation or garner good press.

The subtext of the article seemed to be that Northern Virginia's leaders -- who have gathered into a group called the Northern Virginia Roundtable -- whine ceaselessly about how underappreciated they are.

It has the ring of truth. WT has heard and reported on this story before -- of how the conflicting egos hyping the region never seem to agree on what they're hyping and who should get credit for being a visionary of this, that or the other thing.

A recent meeting with David Walton, head of the Scottish Glasgow Development Agency, suggested that what Northern Virginia's leaders really lack is perspective. Walton has the daunting task of turning a rusting industrial wasteland into a modern, third-wave economy. He must simultaneously reclaim precious land poisoned by more than a century of unregulated dumping, cope with unemployment three times that of Fairfax County and provide jobs capable of slowing the persistent drain of the best and brightest Scottish engineers -- many of whom end up in places like Fairfax County.

He seemed amused when told about the economic problems in Northern Virginia. "Doesn't Fairfax County have the highest per capita income in the United States?" he asked. "I wish I had your problems."

Consider some of the region's other "problems": Northern Virginia has one of the world's best school systems. The area has one of the highest penetrations of computers in homes and businesses. Northern Virginia is blessed with the world's most advanced communications infrastructure. In combination with the Maryland suburbs of D.C., Northern Virginia is home of the Internet's hottest service providers. Finally, right next door is the world's largest customer, the federal government.

Isn't it lovely when your problems are the envy of the world -- and you get to complain about them, too?

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