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DC Repurposes “#ObviouslyDC” to Attract Businesses Other Than Amazon

The campaign didn't land HQ2 in the District, but that doesn't mean it's without value, the city says.

Screenshot via a DC YouTube video.

In one of DC’s HQ2 videos, a robot brings Mayor Muriel Bowser a print Washington Post with a headline about Amazon’s search for a new headquarters. “Jeff owns a house here already,” the mayor muses about the Post‘s owner and Amazon’s boss, and she notes the nice symmetry that Amazon would achieve with a Washington-Washington pairing. Then she asks her Amazon Echo: “Where is the most interesting company in the world going to locate?” “Obviously, Washington, DC,” Alexa replies.

That purpose-built tag was obviously unsuccessful–while Amazon did agree that this region was the right spot for HQ2, Arlington won the biggest prize. And yet DC has decided to revive #ObviouslyDC as a new economic-development website, which will be a sort of one-stop shop for companies interested in opening in the District, no matter how many employees they plan to bring. (It hosts DC’s Amazon bid as a case study.) Still, “#ObviouslyDC” didn’t work the first time. Why not let it recede into the same dark closet where we stash our failed Olympics bid?

“We felt like there was a lot of value there,” says Karima Woods, the director of business development and strategy for the Office of the Deputy Mayor for Planning and Economic Development. #ObviouslyDC had already collected a lot of information about what would make DC attractive to Amazon, so why not expand on that idea? Woods cites tech, healthcare, smart cities companies, education, and cybersecurity firms as just a few of the sectors the District hopes to attract.

Woods may be on to something with the long-tail value of #ObviouslyDC. Last year when I interviewed Justin Wilson, who’s now Alexandria’s mayor, about the value of Amazon’s HQ2 to cities that didn’t land the big fish, he said that the company’s RFP was like a blueprint for what cities should do to attract growth now. A lot of employers, like Amazon, want to see great transit, well-educated workers, bike and pedestrian infrastructure, among other amenities. (Alexandria came out of the bid with Virginia Tech’s new innovation campus, and is likely to see spillover from any economic effects on Crystal City, which is just across Four Mile Run from its Potomac Yard neighborhood.)

Woods agrees and stresses that the District isn’t looking only for a huge firm like Amazon but wants small businesses to come here as well. In fact, a local business, the marketing and design firm Brllnt, helped the city build obviouslydc.com over the past eight months. Woods says she has already had a few conversations with prospective businesses, as well as other jurisdictions, since the site had a soft launch last week.

So yeah, go ahead and make your Alexa jokes. The DMPED staff is ready for them. And Woods promises more economic development initiatives beyond the #ObviouslyDC website: “This is the start of a growing effort,” she says.

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Andrew Beaujon joined Washingtonian in late 2014. He was previously with the Poynter Institute, TBD.com, and Washington City Paper. His book A Bigger Field Awaits Us: The Scottish Soccer Team That Fought the Great War was published in 2018. He lives in Del Ray.