Region Ranks 4 in Fortune's Rating

Article excerpt

Washington has always been thought of as a government town.

But that image is likely to change now that the region has climbed to the No. 4 spot on Fortune Magazine's "Best Cities for Business" list out on newsstands this week.

Metropolitan Washington - including southern Maryland, Northern Virginia and the District - languished at No. 12 last year and in 1998. Now, behind only New York, San Francisco and Chicago, strong business and financial centers, Washington has caught the attention of business executives across the country.

"The major draw to the area is its cost-effective space, its quality of life, its educated work force, the transportation system and the diversity of the culture in D.C. that has made us No. 4," said Hugh Panero, president and chief executive of XM Satellite Radio in the District.

Mr. Panero, the new D.C. Chamber of Commerce Business Leader of the Year, has worked extensively with the city to help get Washington so high on the list.

"We've worked to make D.C. an attractive place to do business, but I don't think it's completely paid off until we're ranked No. 1."

Mr. Panero attributes much of the success to D.C. Mayor Anthony A. Williams' business-development incentives such as tax breaks for entrepreneurs and convincing high-profile companies like Home Depot and Kmart to set up shop in the District.

"The city has recovered from its financial problems," he said. "Obviously, you have to start off with that as a foundation."

Tim Priest, an economist with the Greater Washington Initiative, said it will be much harder for Washington to jump from No. 4 to No. 1 than it was to get from No. 12 to No. 4.

"People in Silicon Valley still think of Washington as a government town," Mr. Priest said. "We've been working to change that, and that will be our continued challenge."

Fortune magazine added seven new D.C. companies to its 1,000 Best Companies to Work For list which gave the area more exposure among Fortune readers, Mr. Priest said.

The Arthur Anderson consulting firm conducted the survey for Fortune, basing its analysis on business growth, diversity of industries, technology occupation, education attainment levels and quality of life.

Washington already ranks No. 2 behind Salt Lake City, Utah, among the "354 Best Cities to Live in North America" by Places Rated Almanac.

And, Washington was named by Inc. …