We are living Groundhog Day in the capital region.
The greater Washington region is poised for growth if we learn from the past. Sometimes you need to keep having the same conversation repeatedly to be able to define differences and opportunities.
I have been at a few discussions recently about regional economic growth — and some passionate business people admitted that sharing their ideas felt a little like the Bill Murray movie “Groundhog Day.” They have said to me, “What’s different now?”
You might remember that Murray’s character keeps repeating the same day over and over. What you might not remember is that he eventually learns from the exercise — enhancing himself each time. He learns to play piano, becomes a better-rounded person and gets the girl. Hollywood happy endings all around.
Over the years, I have participated in many meetings and initiatives on how to better the D.C. region. Each time, there is more clarity. Now, I am seeing a greater regional awareness — perhaps sequestration has cleared our minds and forced us to better focus.
Our region has a demonstrable history of growing more rapidly when the business community works on specific industrial opportunities, and leads in the support and growth of these industries. The government contracting industry and its growth in our region is a specific example of this. During the Cold War and the Space Race, there was a serious need for smart people to create policies, programs and approaches to tackle large national opportunities. In the 1970s and 1980s, a group of entrepreneurial business leaders saw this industry as a chance for regional distinction and opportunity, and they worked together to bring more companies to the region, build roads and housing as well as create civic amenities to attract and retain a highly-skilled consulting work force.
It happened again in the 1990s with the development of the commercial Internet and creation of new telecommunications infrastructure. Indeed, the communications revolution we currently enjoy really started here in the capital region. The dismantling of the AT&T monopoly occurred in our region’s courts, with the encouragement of innovative businesses based here. The commercialization of the Internet came out of protocols developed here, and was popularized by our entrepreneurs. The infrastructure of the web was built and deployed here.
So, where will we lead in the 21st century? What will be our next area of economic growth and leadership? Can we do it again?
I believe we can. A number of areas of industrial opportunity are extremely well-suited for our region. We have learned that when we take advantage of who we are, and where we are located, great opportunities appear. Many talented people come to the nation’s capital to serve the country — to do something meaningful. It’s a hallmark of our entrepreneurial culture here and a big differentiator from other regions of the United States.
We have within us a sense of shared commitment that many regions lack. We are best suited to work with government and regulators to find new ways to serve our communities and succeed as entrepreneurs. While cynics complain about a lack of efficiency in government here, historically, our region has had the most success bringing new approaches to government, and works cohesively to address opportunity and needs.
I see a number of sectors where our region could be a 21st century leader — and I am not alone. I see life science companies offering to pilot the development of a rapidly growing life science industry. I see government contracting companies showing more and more willingness to take chances and try new approaches to innovation. I see a high concentration of media, finance and hospitality companies making investments and looking to grow supporting companies.
Here’s my Groundhog Day forecast: We’ve become better and better over the decades, and I predict our region is poised for even greater things over the next few years.
Jonathan Aberman is a business owner, entrepreneur and founder of Tandem NSI, an Arlington-based organization that seeks to connect innovators to government agencies. He is host of “Forward Thinking Radio” on SiriusXM, a business and policy program, and lectures at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business.