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Yes I know, actually a huge area. (Wikimedia Commons)

I’m not much for lists composed by arbitrary metrics, and lately so many put D.C. area on top anyway that they’re getting boring (highest home prices! most new jobs! best place for young people!). But despite being guilty of both, the Washington Business Journal‘s small business vitality ranking is worthy of note, because of the huge jump from 19th place in the country last year to 9th this year, making us the best small business market on the East Coast. The Washington Metropolitan Statistical Area—actually a big place, with 5.47 million residents—has long been dominated by the influence of the federal government. But it’s been gradually diversifying, and now has a healthy private sector by anybody’s standards as well.

Of course, D.C.’s strong showing is just as much a function of the poor fortunes of other metros—private sector employment actually declined 0.40 percent from 2005 to 2010. But that’s a lot better than most cities, and 6.16 percent population growth was enough to put the area over the top.

Austin, Texas puts the rest of the country to shame, with 20 percent population growth over the last five years and 9.34 percent growth in businesses with fewer than 100 employees (though Washington still beats Austin on small business density, with 25.58 businesses per 1,000 residents to Austin’s 23.69).