Since the enthusiasm about landing the Amazon HQ2 is very much about the high-impact tech jobs, it’s easy to side step that the District has always out-paced most other cities in playing host to big tech brands.
That story has mostly been tied to the transition of corporate tech into traditional lobbying outfits — something largely expanded amid this administration’s unpredictability. Look to Apple‘s leadership here or the government affairs layoffs at Microsoft in recent years. So, though real estate analysts swoon over Facebook doubling its Terrell Place footprint and Twitter has marketed its local office, local tech leaders don’t always quite know if the impressive checklist of household tech company offices really means much to growing a tech scene here.
“Those offices just are not engaged in the innovation community,” said Ryan Ross, the bearded program director of the Halcyon Incubator, which focuses on social good companies. A check with other local tech founders recently netted similar responses.
But there are glimmers of impact, like when Google launched a engineering diversity pilot with Howard University and hosted recruiting events here. Locally, news of the 500-person Yelp office caused cheers, because even its sales and marketing focus went beyond the one-industry-town feel of other lobbying-focused offices. Even the Amazon Web Services corporate office in Virginia’s Fairfax County seemed compelling.
But lately this reporter has taken to asking local tech leaders if only limited engagement with big tech brands is a missed opportunity. Most connected founders and tech scene advocates say there might be someone at one or two of the local offices whom they can call, but there was limited sense of their existence here being anything more than interesting for real estate and policy wonks.
But Ross said something at a Gensler-hosted panel event during DC Startup Week that stuck out:
“If they’re not here in the first place, you can’t engage at all,” said Ross. “The value of D.C. is that everyone is here.”