By the time Talwar sold Advanced Management Technology in 2004, it had grown from a one-woman shop to a company with more than 350 employees and $100 million in annual revenue — all of it from government contracts.
Talwar’s success — and that of hundreds of other contractors like her — is a key factor driving the explosion of the region’s wealth over the last two decades. It also has exacerbated the gap between high- and low-wage workers, which is wider in the D.C. area than almost anywhere else in the United States.
Washingtonians now enjoy the highest median household income of any metropolitan area in the country, and five of the top 10 jurisdictions in America — Loudoun, Howard and Fairfax counties, and Falls Church and Fairfax City — are here, census data shows.
The signs of that wealth are on display all over, from the string of luxury boutiques such as Gucci and Tory Burch opening at Tysons Galleria to the $15 cocktails served over artisanal ice at the W Hotel in the District to the ever-larger houses rising off River Road in Potomac.
But nowhere is the region’s wealth more concentrated than the place where Talwar purchased her 15,000-square-foot white-brick estate home: Great Falls, a once-rural enclave of about 15,000 residents 17 miles west of the White House.
Sixteen percent of Great Falls households earn $500,000 or above a year, and more than half make at least $250,000, according to Nielsen Claritas. By comparison, 11 percent of households in Potomac earn $500,000 or more, and McLean and Bethesda each boast 10 percent at that level.
Talwar’s neighbors are entrepreneurs, lobbyists, CEOs, tech moguls, financiers and defense contractors for whom two wars have been very, very good business. Their portfolios take hits when the stock market plummets, as it did this month, but the setbacks are usually temporary.
While others have struggled to recover from the recession, many of the residents of Great Falls have continued to launch new business ventures, enjoy easy access to venture capital and reap the benefits of bonuses and deferred compensation plans. Median household income there has increased 32 percent in the last 10 years, helping to widen the divide between those at the top and bottom of the economic ladder to a record high in Virginia.
Like their counterparts in California’s Silicon Valley or Seattle, Great Falls residents tend to be low-key about their wealth, more partial to sweatshirts than designer duds. In their jobs they wield enormous power, but it isn’t always obvious at first glance.