Washington, D.C. has long been notorious for two reasons — its oppressive summer humidity, and the excesses and escapades of its politicians. Today, if you can turn on your air conditioner and turn off your TV and radio, you can live a fairly normal life here, especially if you’re looking for work in the high-tech sector.
According to the D.C. Chamber of Commerce, there could be a staggering 20,000 vacancies in the high-tech sector in the D.C. area. Companies such as AOL, MCI WorldCom, Oracle and Nextel Communications have bought large tracts of land in Dulles, Virginia, along the airport corridor, taking advantage of available space in close proximity to the nation’s capital. They also avoid high office rents in D.C. neighborhoods, where office space currently averages $36.76 per square foot.
One drawback for firms in the area is the labor shortage, which is prevalent in all sectors. Over the past year, unemployment has hovered at around two percent, with the national average standing at about four percent. It is a rarity to see a D.C. area shop or restaurant without a “help wanted” sign in its window — a fair reflection of the labor market as a whole.
D.C. proper also has a scarcity of undeveloped land for construction of huge office headquarters. And a law stating that no building in the city can be higher than the Capitol building limits high-rise construction. An incredible boom in downtown office and hotel construction has occurred, as smaller high-tech firms like VarsityBooks.com and Magnet Interactive have assumed D.C. addresses.
Other major employers downtown include many trade-based organizations, as well as government, law and health sectors, and the three main universities — Howard, Georgetown and George Washington. Within the city boundaries alone, colleges and universities enroll nearly 80,000 students.
Employees have the chance to work in a culturally diverse city that offers internationally renowned museums and lively neighborhoods, such as Georgetown, Adams Morgan and Dupont Circle.
Residents say that since the MCI Center opened in 1996, nightlife in the city has blossomed. The Center hosts ice hockey, basketball, and numerous concerts and cultural events. Not surprisingly, many of the 20,000+ people who might attend such events seek places to eat and drink after the festivities. As a result, numerous restaurants, bars and nightclubs have emerged in the area. To deal with this increased activity, the metro rail system is experimenting with an extension of longer weekend running hours until 2:00 a.m. The convention center, under construction at Mount Vernon Square and slated to open in 2003, will help D.C. to remain an “evening city” — a selling point missing just a decade ago.
The downside of working in D.C. can be the commute, especially if you’re coming in from Virginia over the notorious Wilson Bridge, or if at any point you must venture onto the Capital Beltway. A recent survey quoted by the Washington Post showed D.C. as being saddled with the nation’s second worst traffic congestion problem, surpassed only by Los Angeles.
Should you choose to avoid the commute by living within the city, rents and housing prices are well above the national average, and the high-priced property belt stretches far out into the suburbs. Within D.C. itself, though, this is not necessarily bad news. Prices have risen on the back of the economic boom, but new, first-time home buyer programs have also created more stable communities which, in turn, have fostered healthier local economies.
If only we could find a way to create politicians as stable as the D.C. economy …