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Advancing the New Economy in the District of Columbia

Remarks by Mario Morino,
Chairman, Morino Institute,
at DC Technology Council Inaugural Meeting
March 26, 1999

I. Introduction

It is a pleasure to be here, to be part of a new beginning in the District of Columbia, to support the efforts of Mayor Williams to revitalize this great city, and to have this chance to support the leadership of Marie Johns, Jay Young and the others involved in establishing the Washington DC Technology Council, Inc. (http://wdcep.com/).

This past January, at the Potomac Conference organized by the Greater Washington Board of Trade, I delivered a speech entitled, 2005: Digital Capital of the New Economy. In that speech I stated my optimism for the future of Greater Washington and presented a vision for the region. Today I would like to share a vision for the District and conclude with a call to action for all who are interested in harnessing the region's economic force – information and communication – for the District of Columbia.

A Trip to the Future of the Greater Washington Region

Let's jump forward to the year 2005, just six years from now. Imagine that we are visitors to the region, about to take a tour of this 21st century community, which, by 2005, has become one of the fastest growing metropolitan areas in the world. Our aerial tour with our departure from Dulles Airport. It is hard not to notice the expansiveness of this facility, now the hub of a world-class network of regional airports.

As we clear the runway, we immediately notice the names of telecommunications, Internet, and E-commerce firms and see a string of new corporate campuses. As we look down at the Toll Road, the names read like a Who's Who of E-commerce. It is abundantly clear that the efforts of recent years to make Virginia the "Internet State" have paid off handsomely.

Heading over the Potomac River into Maryland, as we look down, we see the brick and glass buildings of more than 500 bioscience firms and research labs. Further on, we see a concentration of telecommunications suppliers, satellite, wireless communications, and spatial systems firms extending out of NASA Greenbelt, and a multimedia entertainment strip with new media and content businesses in Silver Spring.

As we fly over the District line, we witness a heartening commercial and cultural renaissance in the District of Columbia. We are told that for the first time in decades more people are moving into DC than leaving it, and experts say its population will grow significantly by 2020. Fueling this growth are clusters of new media firms and design studios that have sprung up in Georgetown, Lafayette Square, LeDroit Park and Van Ness. Along New York Avenue, we see a growing industrial corridor, and in NoMA, the area north of Massachusetts Avenue, there is the further development of a telecommunications and media complex that has been growing since Qwest Communications was founded here in 1999. A bustling, high-tech community stands on the site of the old Navy Yard, while across the river where St. Elizabeth’s hospital once stood, we see the early stages of an urban village and Anacostia’s revitalized waterfront that promises sustained economic and community growth in District's southeast.

As we tour our region, something else is evident. Throughout the region there is vibrancy, as economic success has helped energize the region's cultural institutions. The influx of young professionals has created a demand for new theaters, cinemas, galleries, restaurants, entertainment centers, and museums. The universities are more naturally integrated into their communities, adding to the quality of life in their surrounding neighborhoods. The region is teeming with activity. People are out and about, yet surprisingly our streets and thoroughfares appear less congested. The region is alive.

So in the year 2005, the New Economy is flourishing across the region, with greater economic balance among Northern Virginia, Maryland and the District. Telecommunications, the Internet, and E-commerce continue to be the driving force of our economy’s growth, with bioscience poised to deliver the next wave in the following 10 years. A healthy trade in exports in professional services and the knowledge industry continues to grow rapidly, while international business in the region continues to expand.

The marvel is not only the booming growth that the New Economy has spawned, but also the quality of leadership that has brought us to where we are in 2005.

PART II. Call to Action

The vision I have outlined for the region is, admittedly, optimistic. And it should be. A rapid succession of events over the past 12 to 18 months, including WorldCom's acquisition of MCI, AOL's buyout of Netscape, and the Washington Post's front page series portraying the region as the "Digital Capital" of the New Economy, confirm that this is a region of enviable potential.

Recognition is one thing. Fulfilling a vision, however, is quite another. In that regard there is much we can do.

Let's look now specifically at the District of Columbia. Today, Washington, DC substantially lags behind Northern Virginia and Suburban Maryland as a driver in the New Economy engines of InfoComm and Bioscience. Yet, the District possesses many assets that can be the foundation for its future growth.

  • The District offers the urban lifestyle that is so essential to the vibrant, growing entrepreneurial community in the strategic industries of the New Economy.

  • The District possesses the world's largest and richest repositories of information and cultural objects, and enjoys an enormous talent base to exploit these resources.

  • The District is home to the Federal Government, its agencies, and labs as well as an international community of global institutions, foreign missions and embassies.
  • The District is the core of a region that has a multicultural population and spectacular cultural, historic, and natural resources, including world-class attractions, rivers, mountains, and parks that enhance our quality of life.

These assets have been outlined in a strategic plan for the City. This plan provides the backdrop for the new economic commission and endorses the formation of this DC Tech Council that we celebrate today.

The District could be poised to enjoy a renaissance beyond anything many of us could imagine in our wildest projections. There are a series of positive economic and social forces that, when combined with the speed of the New Economy and the Internet, will create a momentum and critical mass of activity to bring about rapid and profound change.

These forces include:

  • A recognition that our nation's capital should assume the preeminent stature befitting the capital of the most powerful country in the world.

  • A change in leadership, led by Mayor Williams, ushers in a renewed optimism and increased capacity for the future of the District.

  • An enhanced commitment to regionalism across Greater Washington is causing the broader business community to recognize the importance and support for developing a strong urban center at the region's core.

  • A severe regional transportation problem opens up an opportunity for the District to become the vibrant urban center where people will want to work, learn, and live.

  • The Internet, telecommunications, e-commerce, and new media content offer new economic opportunities and introduce new options to solve the traditional challenges the City has faced.

  • And, in a time when branding and "eyeball aggregation" are defining characteristics for success, the District's national and international visibility offer the Federal Government and industry players a great stage on which to perform and display their wares.

The obvious objectives for the DC Tech Council are to attract and develop the workforce, increase access to capital, and recruit anchor businesses to locate in the District. These are all reasonable and traditional goals. I encourage you to be more visionary. The DC Tech Council has the unique opportunity of starting with a clean slate – no legacy, history, or impediments. I urge the DC Tech Council to become an agent for change in the District of Columbia, to refashion the District as a model "digital community" and the heart of the region that will be the Digital Capital of the New Economy.

The DC Tech Council can and must become an important voice advocating for how technology and, more specifically, the Internet can advance the interests and mission of this great city and its residents. I suggest a ten-point call to action:

  1. Become Advocates for the New Economy. Define and communicate the importance of the New Economy to enable people throughout all levels of the District to understand why digital infrastructure, digital products, and a futuristic outlook are critical. Create an educational campaign that advances the vision of the District as a Digital Community and then coalesce all of the sectors and organizations in the District around a single image and message – a "Get Digital!" campaign.

  2. Bring Elected Officials and Public Policy into the New Economy. We need to work with political leaders to act on substantive investments in strategic areas such as infrastructure, digital government, basic research, and professional development within our educational systems. We must work with and bolster our legislators to ensure they understand and enact legislation that supports the New Economy and the entrepreneurship that drives it--and hold them accountable for these outcomes. In particular, tax incentives need to be considered to stimulate the development and deployment of technology, encourage entrepreneurial start-ups, and create incentives for workforce training and advance development of technology company-clusters and incubator facilities.

  3. Make Regionalism a Core Principle. The Greater Washington region will best succeed by recognizing that the whole region—what was once proposed as the State of Potomac—is far greater than the sum of the parts of Northern Virginia, Maryland, and the District. And, the District must work with its counterparts in Northern Virginia and Maryland, as well as insist that they invest in the District as the region's urban core. The New Economy is not about existing jurisdictions and boundaries. We must come together.

  4. Connect the Last-Mile – District officials, the business sector, and community leaders must advocate for increased competition for telecommunications in local markets to push low-cost high-bandwidth connectivity. Actions must open the market to more companies to provide this crucial resource to tens of thousands of homes, home offices and small businesses.

  5. Make the District Government Digital. Business and community leaders must lobby Federal and District officials heavily for appropriations to digitize the delivery of government services. The District government must use the Net to enable citizens to process permits, file their taxes, seek out specialized information, and reach out more effectively to local and federal lawmakers, agencies, and other voters. Make government services directly accountable to the citizens. This modernization will, in turn, drive process re-engineering to further streamline government services, lower costs and improve service.

  6. Nurture Local Growth – Foster growth from within and build on the assets that are already here, the cultural institutions, the multiple teaching hospitals doing state of the art research and pioneering new surgery, and the many universities. Nurture a climate conducive to innovation – encourage businesses of similar focus to reside in clusters, create e-commerce hubs for small businesses, leverage the labs in the region's universities, and encourage incubators in areas of dense population and traffic. Stimulate the netpreneurs – those starting new media, telecom, Internet, e-commerce, and content businesses. Grow the workforce by strengthening technology education for people already in the workforce who want to gain new skills, for people who want to make the transition from welfare to work, and for those who are currently in school who want to pursue careers in technology.

  7. Leverage the Federal Government Presence. Encourage the Administration and Congress to appropriate research funds to groups in the District's universities and labs. Similarly, work with the agencies – DARPA, NASA, NIH, and others – to create pilots and test-beds in the District for education, research, healthcare, e-commerce and other areas that will stimulate growth and innovation. Secure their support to drive technology skills development programs at places like Southeastern University, UDC, Link & Learn, Friendship House, and other viable sources in the District.

  8. Change the Culture – Create a "digital culture" here in the District. Advance netpreneurs as the vanguard of this new culture. Make all facets of the District rethink how they do business from health and human services to transportation. Create a new position in the Executive Office of the Mayor charged with making the District Government digital, in mind and deed. If Barbados, a country with a population of 260,000, can be so bold to invest $175 million to ensure that every school child has access to, and learns how to use the Internet, then we must be as visionary.

  9. Refocus Technology and Education. Ensure that the educational system, at all levels, is fostering the development of skills for the New Economy. Recognize that this work will not be best accomplished by focusing on filling classrooms with PCs and Internet connections—something that too many from the technology sector advocate. We must advance more basic solutions: Improved professional development and support of teachers, better models for parental engagement, alternative sources for education, and more effective leadership in education. If you do but one thing, change the allocation and investment in technology in support of education and ensure that from this point on, 70 percent of every dollar directed to technology is invested in developing our teachers, administrators, and youth leaders.

  10. Connect People, Not Institutions – Take the bold step to connect the people, not the buildings and organizations. Let's set a goal that 100 percent of all teachers in the District will have access to, and a demonstrated capacity in, email and the Internet. Set the same goal for ALL District employees, leaders of community-based groups, health care workers, and others. And, let's track our progress and hold our programs and officials accountable.

We have a remarkable opportunity—one that is so good, so rich, so exciting, that it is difficult to fully comprehend. We are blessed with a future that other regions envy and the District can and should be at the core of this opportunity. The District can be the urban center of a region-wide explosion in InfoComm and bioscience, the economic backbone of the New Economy. The District can be the Digital Capital of the New Economy.

But, as we all know, there are two distinct worlds in the District of Columbia. As we consider the enormous opportunity of the New Economy, we can never forget there are many people in the District not included. Thus, our vision will only be complete when we use our newfound wealth, talent, and technologies to solve the vexing social problems that have long plagued our City. It is then that we will have written our own proud page in the history books as the District becomes the digital community for all people.

These are all the reasons the DC Tech Council is so important and why you must be a leadership organization in helping shape the region's future. In so doing, you will advance the interests of your high-tech membership and provide them a way to become more engaged in their community.

The Potomac KnowledgeWay is proud to be a charter member of the DC Tech Council and, along with the Morino Institute, stands ready to work with and support the Board and its members.

My thanks to Marie Johns and Jay Young for allowing me to be a part of this morning's program, and my congratulations and best wishes to you both and to all who have contributed to creating the Washington DC Technology Council.

Thank you.

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