Greater Washington residents today live in one of the world’s greatest regions. For the first time in two decades, the Capitals are in the Stanley Cup Finals. Our chefs are getting the acknowledgement they deserve as the best in the world. Last, but certainly not least, the Washington region is considered the leading contender to land Amazon’s second headquarters (HQ2). If selected, HQ2 would bring an unprecedented economic boost to the Washington metropolitan area, including up to 50,000 new jobs, billions of dollars generated annually in economic activity, and thousands of smart and talented people who would move to the District of Columbia, Maryland, and Virginia (DMV) area.
For the Greater Washington MARCOM community, however, while the impact across the region – in jobs and economic activity – is significant, it is the opportunity to rebrand the “federal city” that has the industry salivating.
Consider – in the past decade, American cities have all made a concerted effort to diversify their economic bases and the perception surrounding them. Which can truly make a claim to have succeeded? Los Angeles, for all its talk of “Silicon Beach”, is still known primarily for the entertainment industry. Detroit, despite becoming a film powerhouse in its own right, still carries the moniker and baggage of “Motor City”. Even New York City, the city most known for being home to every and any type of industry, continues to struggle to escape the image of being the exclusive province of Wall Street.
The Greater Washington region is not exempt from this branding challenge. Over the past decade, the area has made significant improvements in to the local world-class universities, seen the dining scene explode, and has become the cybersecurity capital of the United States. The quality level in the District – in dining, in the startup scene, in sports – continues to rise. Yet, to the rest of the world the DMV remains the “federal city”. Landing Amazon HQ2 has the potential to reshape the region’s image.
Put another way, bringing Amazon to the District was the equivalent of bringing Max Scherzer to the Nationals – the team was great before he got there, but his performance raised everyone’s game immeasurably. Around Scherzer, the whole team had to perform at a higher level just to keep up. In a Washington region home to HQ2, the same effect would occur – the fight for market share and mind share would be fierce. While the competition in Greater Washington is already at an all-time high, HQ2 has the potential to further expose the region to national and international audiences – and not just as the “federal city”.
HQ2 would be a signal to the world that Greater Washington is indeed a great place to do business. Just in the past few months, Nestlé has relocated their US headquarters to the area, and the March of Dimes has announced plans to do the same. Apple has also been reported as discussing with regional leaders the potential of opening a second headquarters here – to the tune of another 20,000 jobs for the region. Amazon would be further confirming Greater Washington as more than just the “federal city”.
The truth is this: HQ2 is a reset button for the region. For some metropolitan areas, resetting their image has taken a long time and has come at a great cost. Boston, for instance, has invested heavily in becoming a technology hub – and it is only now paying off dividends, after nearly two decades of effort. For other regions, it took natural disasters to create the circumstances for change. The most prominent example of this was New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. HQ2 provides the same opportunity – without the decades-long wait or destruction of a hurricane.
We in the marketing and branding community stand ready!