The Power Pendulum Swings Toward Washington

Tommy G. Thompson, former Health and Human Services secretary, will be among the speakers at the Capital Connection conference.
Tommy G. Thompson, former Health and Human Services secretary, will be among the speakers at the Capital Connection conference. (By Jae C. Hong -- Associated Press)
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By Kim Hart
Monday, May 25, 2009

Silicon Valley and Wall Street are so last year. Now all eyes are on Washington.

That's one of the main themes of this week's Capital Connection conference put on by the Mid-Atlantic Venture Association. It runs tomorrow and Wednesday at the Mandarin Oriental Hotel and brings together a much wider range of technology investors, bloggers, entrepreneurs and new-media junkies than in past years. And this time, policy wonks and government insiders will also be there.

Reed E. Hundt, former Federal Communications Commission chairman, and Tommy G. Thompson, former Health and Human Services secretary, will be speaking, as will VentureBeat blog author Matt Marshall and GigaOm author Om Malik, two well-known technology bloggers. Washington hasn't been a frequent stop for them in the past.

It's just one more sign of the region's growing clout in the business and technology world. This is where stimulus dollars are doled out, where the economic recovery is taking shape, and where regulations -- many of which directly affect businesses -- are being crafted and rewritten. Of course, lawyers and lobbyists are getting a great deal of business helping folks find ways to tap into stimulus money. But Washington's new power role is also good news for local firms.

"For most investors and companies, public policy has been a foreign environment," said Tom Wheeler, managing director of Core Capital Partners, a District-based venture capital firm. He was also a member of President Obama's transition team, focusing on science and technology.

"Those that understand this town and the process and who understand the role of public policy can much more easily factor it into their corporate decisions," Wheeler said.

Companies familiar with the Beltway culture are well-positioned to benefit from the government's increased role in nearly every sector. That doesn't necessarily mean that a local company such as Germantown-based Current Group has an automatic leg up in getting access to stimulus money earmarked for smart grid technology, for example. But the firm has a head start in deciphering the complicated policymaking process over competitors based elsewhere, Wheeler said.

Current Group chief executive Tom Casey will also be speaking at the conference.

The conference, which is open to the public for the first time, demonstrates the growing nexus between the business community and the government, said Julia Spicer, MAVA's executive director.

"The spread between the two worlds has tightened a bit," she said. "The economy is the real focal point" of the conference, "and the government has a definite role in that."

Start-Up Job Listings

In the market for a job? How about a gig as a software programmer for MacroGenics, a biotech firm in Rockville? Perhaps being a Web developer at Reston-based Cernium, a video analytics firm, is more up your alley. Or flexing your business development muscles at cardiac-testing firm Cardiocore Lab in Bethesda.

While larger companies downsize to cope with the recession, start-ups have a unique opportunity to hire. Many of them have millions of dollars of venture capital investment to keep them afloat during tough times. Although start-ups are also cutting back on spending, they often have more flexibility to fill positions that can help them win new business once the economy starts to brighten.

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