DC isn't just about lobbyists when it comes to business

Washington Monument
Paul J. Richards | AFP | Getty Images
Washington Monument

President Calvin Coolidge famously said, "The chief business of the American people is business." These days, most people think Washington never got the message.

Our nation's capital is viewed as a town with one industry: government. Sure, there is government largesse and government contractors. Lawyers and lobbyists get their fill. And based on this, skeptics are not particularly shocked when studies regularly show the District of Columbia leading top-10 lists in job creation and housing values.

But a thriving center of private sector business—not so much.

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We longtime Washingtonians think, "Good! More opportunity for us." Because we know something is happening in and around the Beltway that ensures our city will be one of the great business opportunities not just in the U.S. but globally.

That's nothing new. Large private and publicly traded corporations have found their way to Washington for years. Multibillion-dollar juggernauts calling D.C. home include Danaher in manufacturing; Geico in insurance; Marriott and Hilton in hotels; Clark Enterprises and Federal Realty in construction and commercial real estate; Gannett and Discovery in media; Advisory Board, Corporate Executive Board and BNA in business research and information; and Mars in food products.

Those are only a fraction of the committed job creators and business builders in our backyard. The Carlyle Group remains not only one of the largest private equity firms in the world but finances multiple companies across the region that will enter these ranks.

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What is new is that Washington is becoming a magnet for technology and innovation. Building on a foundation laid by telecom, AOL and data giants such as MicroStrategy two decades ago, D.C. is attracting a new generation of entrepreneurs building opportunities at scale.

LivingSocial has been an early leader among daily deals sites. Blackboard highlights a series of hypergrowth companies in education, and Capital One has become one of the leading financial enterprises in the world and a master of data analytics. In fact, it has launched one of the first Innovation Centers on the East Coast to incubate e-commerce and finance start-ups.

Through his Revolution Group, Steve Case is putting hundreds of millions into disruptive technologies for the "sharing economy," and a new initiative, 1776, is one of several shared-office space and ecosystem incubators.

Outsiders miss three fundamental advantages of Washington. First, government's substantial historic role in the city means that traditional as well as modern industries establish structures here for lobbying and government sales. Being at the epicenter of national government allows companies to understand opportunities to expand operations or create disruptive enterprises in highly regulated fields. No surprise that network security, banking, health care and education enterprises have been and are being born here.

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Second, Washington is attracting the next generation of young, well-educated (the city leads in graduate degrees nationwide) people who want to have an impact.

As one young entrepreneur recently said to me, "When I talk to older business execs even a few miles away, they don't see the change. Come downtown—14th Street, U Street other new neighborhoods. It is totally different. We are changing things in the businesses we work for, in businesses we are starting, and even kids coming to work for government. If they get frustrated they stay … and build."

Finally, Washington has never been more vibrant as a place made up of communities. The neighborhoods are stunning and energetic, and the arts and music scene is more exciting than ever. The city has become a food center—home to James Beard winner José Andrés and his global ThinkFoodGroup as well as creative restaurants that serve cuisine representing the international community here.

Like every great metropolis, the city has challenges. But this generation is applying its ingenuity to tackle them.

The business of Washington is business.

By Christopher M. Schroeder

Schroeder is a Washington-based tech entrepreneur and venture investor and a member of the CNBC-YPO Chief Executive Network. His book "Startup Rising: The Entrepreneurial Revolution Remaking the Middle East" will be published this summer.

CNBC and YPO, Young Presidents' Organization, have formed an exclusive editorial partnership, consisting of regional "Chief Executive Networks" in the Americas, EMEA and Asia-Pacific. These "Chief Executives Networks" are made up of a sample of YPO's unrivaled global network of 20,000 top executives from 120 countries who are on the frontlines of the economy. The opinions of "Chief Executive Network" members are solely their own and do not reflect the opinions of YPO as a whole or CNBC.