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Mayor Gray and Tech

Washington DC Tech

Others may be vying for his job, but Vince Gray has more than three months, and he's using them. Our publisher paid a visit to his office this week to ask how DC’s attracting tech firms—in our view (based on what we see in our other 26 cities), the linchpin in driving commercial real estate vitality.

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This month the Mayor made his second visit to China and was blown away by famed “Z Park,” a Silicon Valley type area near Beijing, which he tells us is home to 22,000 tech firms and 1.1 million tech employees. If that’s what the Chinese capital city can do, he wonders why not the US capital city?

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He was also there to open an office in Beijing to go with the one DC already has in Shanghai, and to help facilitate Chinese EB5 investment into the US. The Mayor reminds us City Market at O and Skyland have received a great deal of such funding, and that while in China he helped Urban Atlantic pick up a $9M  check for a mixed-use project in Mt. Vernon Triangle.

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The Mayor has a whole room full of mementos, but his best memories, he feels, include the many steps he took on the tech scene: creating the 1776 incubator, which has supported 220 startups; bringing Microsoft’s Innovation Center to St. E’s in Ward 8 to help get young people into STEM jobs; creating a “Tech Corridor,” with financial incentives, on 7th St, running through Howard; and helping facilitate such an appealing local environment that Forbes last month actually named DC America’s coolest city.

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We learned much we didn’t know about the Mayor’s family. Here he shows us a picture of his son (38) and daughter (39) with one of his two grandkids (ages 5 and 9). The Mayor has had his share of triumph and tragedy. His wife Loretta died 16 years ago of lung cancer, though she didn’t smoke; she was a lifelong DC public school teacher. His one sibling, a brother to whom he was close, died last year. Neither of his parents went to high school. His father worked at Freedmen’s Hospital as an orderly, eventually being promoted to run supplies, and drove a taxi at night for more income. At work, he invented and patented a mounting device, but instead of getting royalties (which went to the hospital), he got a certificate.

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For the last 30 years, the Mayor’s lived on Branch Avenue in Ward 7. Of course, we had to ask him his favorite movie. He named: Ray, 42, and Get on Up. Favorite restaurant? The Prime Rib. Favorite vacation? St. Croix. Philosophy? “Don’t tell me about low-hanging fruit, I want to solve harder problems.” One example he cites is that when the derecho hit a couple years ago, and power went out, he decided that rather than just put poles back up, he'd call Pepco CEO Joe Rigby and said they should start burying cables. It took nine months, but he got the Council to approve a program that’s underway. And a startling fact about the Mayor? Over the summer he plays baseball every Wednesday night at Randall Rec Center on South Capitol. The name of their team is the Dragons and they won the city DPR championship. He keeps a first baseman’s mitt and a couple steel bats in his car at all times for quick action.