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

Development Association offer a helping hand to fledgling IT companies by providing technical, financial and business assistance. In 1977, the state established the Virginia Regional Minority Supplier Development Council, a membership organization comprising major corporations, regional companies, and state and local agencies.

The council helps its members identify minority businesses that can offer quality products and services at a competitive cost. Last year it revamped its BizLine, a broadcast/fax service created specifically for minority businesses, which alerts members to contract opportunities provided by corporations and state and local agencies, depending upon their area of expertise. As the number of minority entrepreneurs continues to rise rapidly, almost all of the local areas in the Metroplex region are developing their own special incentives to lure these businesses to their area.

Some counties even dangle financial incentives to lure IT firms inside their borders. Late in 1997, when Ed Howlette Jr., president and CEO of NexGen Solutions Inc., was investigating where to move his D.C.-based firm, he quickly decided on Montgomery County, Maryland. "The county paid me $15,000 to move here," says Howlette, whose firm is now located in Silver Spring. Howlette originally situated his firm in D.C. because he "planned to do a lot of government work and wanted easy access to all of their headquarters." As it turns out, NexGen doesn’t do much government business. Instead
, Howlette has established a partnership with Lotus Corp. "That’s what’s great about this area," he exclaims. "You can market your services to federal and commercial companies."

LOCATION, LOCATION, LOCATION
Considering the amount of money the federal government spends on IT, it’s no surprise that many African American IT firms choose this area for their headquarters. Earl W. Stafford, president and CEO of Unitech, a Fairfax, Virginia-based company that develops high-tech training systems, knew the Metroplex was the right place for his company when he left the military in 1987.

"There are two main reasons for Unitech being headquartered here: First, our business focuses on the federal government and there are some advantages to being close to the seat of power," says Stafford of his be 100s firm, which does 90% of its business with the federal government. "Second, being situated in this area allows us to interact and team with other leading-edge companies in the area, as well as tap into the high-tech workforce."

The benefits of having an abundance of technology companies in the same region cannot be underestimated. "The sheer presence of a large number of IT companies gives you the ability to sell to them as well as to the federal government," says Garrett of the NCMB. As the president and CEO of Sentel, another be 100s IT firm, Garrett’s taken advantage of the excellent location by teaming his Alexandria, Virginia-based company with firms that complement his offerings.

In 1997, Sentel teamed up with Silver Spring-based Optimus Corp. to win a $15 million contract with the Federal Aviation Administration.

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