Tech Boom in the Beltway

This long stretch across Maryland, northern Virginia and Washington, D.C., has rapidly become the new hot spot for burgeoning tech companies

"As the courts have slowed federal 8(a) programs, the use of minority subcontracting has increased in the private sector," says Latham. Large government contractors such as Oracle, MCI Worldcom and Mobil have been increasingly receptive to using African American-owned firms as subcontractors. Besides satisfying federal guidelines, it allows larger firms to outsource portions of contracts that they may not have the manpower or expertise to fulfill.

Although the potential for doing business with Uncle Sam is a major factor in drawing IT companies to the Beltway, it’s not the only one. Despite the nationwide shortage of IT workers, the region boasts a plentiful talent pool. The success of Internet access and content providers such as America Online, PSINet and UUNET (a subsidiary of MCI Worldcom), all headquartered in the Metroplex, has helped attract related businesses and contributed to the industry’s emergence. In addition to eager graduates of the area’s concentration of universities, employers can turn to the abundance of highly trained ex-government employees and, in a pinch, hire workers from an IT firm in the vicinity. Though companies may find themselves in bidding wars for talent, it certainly beats a blank.

Launched in 1997 in Petersburg, Virginia, Omniverse relocated to the Metroplex, setting up shop in Springfield, Virginia, last August. "We needed to be in an area where we could have more technical resources, like high-speed Internet access and satellite connections, available to us," explains Peterson, whose company is now located in Fairfax County — home to more technology companies than any other county in the state.

Almost by instinct, she was drawn to the plethora of organizations that provide resources to small businesses. Each month, the NCMB sponsors seminars on topics such as raising capital that include representatives from venture capital firms, the SBA and banks. "We also provide access to executives from commercial and government organizations that are interested in outsourcing to minority-owned firms," says James Garrett, president of the NCMB. The organization regularly has meetings with officials from agencies like the Department of Transportation and recently hosted procurement executives from DaimlerChrysler, Ford and General Motors.

The Northern Virginia Technology Council (NVTC) hosts similar networking sessions but narrows its focus to fostering the growth and information exchange of IT companies. "At their breakfast seminars you can meet with the CEO of PSINet and mix with venture capitalists and lawyers," says Peterson, who is keen on plugging into the Metroplex network. "The key is to use groups like the NVTC to help build relationships with large companies like Electronic Data Services or Computer Science Corp. so they can find you in the Rolodex when a contracting opportunity comes up," explains Clif Webb, one of the council’s executive board members.

D.C. and Maryland have similar technology councils, but northern Virginia seems to have the early lead in providing resources to IT companies. Organizations such as the Center for Innovative Technology and the Fairfax County Economic

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