Washington, DC: The Next Silicon Valley?

Is the area around Washington, DC becoming the next Silicon Valley?

A new study by management-software firm Carta suggests that technologists around Washington, DC make 97 percent of what their colleagues around San Francisco earn, hinting at a strong level of demand for tech talent (and a strong tech-industry culture to go with it). “Northern Virginia has become a magnet for the industry, with the Dulles Technology Corridor continuing its growth along the Silver Line and Amazon HQ2 going up in Arlington,” added Axios, which summarized the report. (The cost of living is also lower than Silicon Valley, too—at least for the moment.)

This isn’t a new trend, of course; Microsoft and Amazon have been investing heavily in Northern Virginia for over a decade, especially datacenters. The Amazon HQ2 facility, once completed, will supposedly employ more than 25,000 workers by 2030 (with more than 3,000 facility-specific employees hired so far). Nearby Maryland is also enjoying significant hiring momentum, according to data from CompTIA.

Long before the world’s biggest tech companies began investing in the region, local technologists’ best bet for employment was most likely the federal government and its legions of contractors. Federal agencies are hungry for highly specialized talent, especially younger technologists who are willing to make a career out of government service; according to an August 2021 hearing of the House Homeland Security Committee‘s Subcommittee on Cybersecurity, Infrastructure Protection, and Innovation, there are currently 16 times more federal IT workers older than 50 than workers younger than 30. In other words, demand will only increase as more federal workers retire.

But can Washington, DC, Virginia, and Maryland eclipse Silicon Valley (or New York City) as the nation’s preeminent tech hub? Silicon Valley benefits from significant venture-capital investing, a major research and academic hub, and a rich layer of tech talent constantly migrating between local startups and tech giants. The Washington, DC region has many of those elements in place—the big question is whether it can continue to grow that foundation over the long term.