Washington, DC: An imperial capital on the Potomac
The region has performed even more impressively on the jobs front. Since 2001, Washington has enjoyed the lowest unemployment rate of its peer group. Over the course of the entire decade, it ranked second in job growth, trailing only Houston. That wasn’t just because of the federal agencies and gigantic contractors of Washington stereotype. The region has also been a hotbed of entrepreneurship—much of it, to be sure, dependent on federal dollars. During the 2000s, it had 385 firms named to the Inc. 500 lists of fastest-growing companies in America, according to Kauffman Foundation research—by far the most of any metro area. From 2000 through 2011, according to rankings developed by Praxis Strategy Group, Washington’s low-profile but powerful tech sector had the country’s second-highest job growth, after Seattle’s. The region is also one of America’s top life-sciences centers. …
All this intrusion emanates from the legislative and especially the regulatory machinery in Washington. The city has become, in effect, the Brussels of America. So a wider and wider variety of businesses and organizations must be located there to lobby the government that decides their fate. (According to the Center for Responsive Politics, total spending on lobbying rose from $1.6 billion in 2000 to $3.3 billion in 2011.) These firms pay local taxes. So do their workers, who also buy houses, patronize stores, pay tuition at private schools, employ local doctors and lawyers, and so on. The regulatory superstate is turbocharging Washington’s local economy.
This new basis for prosperity could pay huge dividends to the region. The model here might be the defense industry, which has already centralized many operations in the area. Northrop Grumman, for example, recently moved its headquarters from Los Angeles to Washington. Boeing shifted its headquarters from Seattle to Chicago to be closer to defense operations and customers in Washington. Other industries, such as health insurance, may follow suit. Even if they don’t relocate to D.C. entirely, they’ll need to be represented there. City Journal contributing editor Joel Kotkin has speculated that “when everything from zoning [to] the location of industrial plants and healthcare is under Washington’s control, the capital could conceivably even emerge as a challenger to New York’s two century reign as the country’s most important city.” The mere fact that such heresy can be uttered illustrates Washington’s new power.