Techies are known to be iconoclastic. But it’s still somewhat surprising to see disagreements at every turn between D.C.’s tech ringleader and the administration that’s bending over backward to accommodate and attract tech startups.
Last night, Smart Growth America hosted a conversation about tech in D.C. with iStrategyLabs’ Peter Corbett, the unofficial D.C. tech spokesman and organizer, and Office of Planning Director Harriet Tregoning. Corbett opened with praise for the administration of Mayor Vince Gray, which he called “the first administration that’s really paid attention to the tech sector.” Then he proceeded to disagree with point after point of the city’s tech philosophy.
Gray’s stated goal of becoming the biggest tech center on the east coast, as elaborated in his five-year economic plan (with input from Corbett)? “It’s not gonna happen,” Corbett said. “New York is massive. We should focus on being the best D.C.”
Gray’s contention that the city’s tech sector is being held back by difficulty attracting financing? Corbett agreed that the city’s high capital gains tax is a problem, but said “it’s incredibly easy to get angel money in D.C.” and “anyone who’s gonna kill it in the tech sector isn’t going to let the location of their money stop them.”
Tregoning’s claim that one of D.C.’s built-in advantages in becoming a tech center is its concentration of institutions of higher education, with 12 universities based here, 100,000 college students, and 80 universities with some sort of presence in the city? “The universities are largely irrelevant to the tech entrepreneur system,” Corbett said, and went on to badmouth the tech programs at all the universities in town (though he reserved some praise for the University of Maryland).
Tregoning’s insistence that D.C. need not look beyond its borders for startup talent? Corbett said there’s a small number of standout talents who are unlikely to live in D.C., but whom we need to work to attract.
The administration can heap tax breaks, lofty goals, and praise on the city’s techies, but don’t expect them ever to nod quietly in agreement. It’s not, as they would say, in a geek’s DNA.
Photo by Darrow Montgomery