Coming to GW for “the city” is almost a cliché. The University’s application even directs prospective freshmen to not just write about the school’s “city experience” when asking “Why GW?”
But like all great clichés, “I came to GW for D.C.” often has truth to it. According to a recent report in The Wall Street Journal, D.C. is the No. 1 city for young professionals.
Beating out traditional youth-attracting cities like New York, the Journal noted in its October “Next Youth-Magnet Cities” report that D.C. provides young people with jobs, opportunities and experiences they cannot get anywhere but in the nation’s capital.
The paper based its findings on the opinions of six experts, asking them to rank cities from one to 10 based on which city would emerge as youth magnets in the current recession.
While the survey looked at cities that were attracting young professionals, jobs and the city experience also draw in college students who may stay in D.C. after graduation to work in the District’s public and private sectors.
D.C. tied with Seattle for the No. 1 and No. 2 spots, beating out New York City at No. 3, Portland, Ore. at No. 4 and Austin at No. 5.
“It can really take you anywhere.”
Cory Weinberg, a senior at The Benjamin School in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., said the practical future of being a student in D.C. played a big factor in his choice to apply early decision to GW.
“Looking at the job market right now I have to put myself in a situation where I can succeed,” Weinberg said. “I’m interested in politics and communications, and D.C. sets me up for the future where I can make contacts. It can really take you anywhere.”
Students and recent graduates come to D.C. looking for work experience and find no shortage of options in nonprofits and federal agencies that depend on youth volunteers and interns.
At most times during the year, the Kennedy Center has 22 interns who do hands-on work in arts management. Roughly 500 volunteers apply each year, Kennedy Center spokesman John Dow said.
Dow says many of the volunteers are young professionals, and the most popular position for youth volunteers is in multimedia, where volunteers can help film and set up portions of stage performances.
“The performances on our stage are representative of many things we stand for as a city,” Dow said. “D.C. is a global hub and we work with embassies to present international artists from all over the world.”
Aside from nonprofits in D.C., federal agencies like the U.S. Department of State also draw young people looking for a unique and stable work environment.
“It’s probably one of the more likely targets worldwide for people to come and work,” said Fred Lash, spokesperson for the U.S. Department of State. “It’s a likely place for young people to come to look for work because a job here provides international connections, travel and the security that comes with a government job.”
“There’s a lot happening here.”
Students and professionals may flock to D.C. for its jobs, but restaurants and bar owners say D.C.’s nightlife and culture also create a big draw.
Kyle Remissong, the owner of four venues in the city, including the Big Hunt, a small dive bar in Dupont Circle, said D.C.’s nightlife has grown exponentially in the last two decades. Catering to young professionals with happy hours and cheap beer, the Big Hunt attracts an older crowd during the week, but sees a fair share of early 20-somethings on Friday and Saturday nights, Remissong said.
“The bar and restaurant business in D.C. has taken incredible leaps in the last decade or so,” Remissong said. “Twenty years ago we had the government, some steak restaurants and streets that shut down at 8 p.m., and that was about it. Today, there’s a lot happening here.”
Jesse Hamilton, the general manager at The Diner, a renowned 24-hour restaurant in Adams Morgan, said cheaper restaurants and upscale venues alike have begun catering to the youth demographic.
“Young professionals trickle in throughout our average day,” Hamilton said. “I think they have always been here in D.C. but the number of youth is definitely growing and there’s a trend of restaurants realizing that they are a worthwhile investment.”
Like the growing restaurant and bar scene, D.C.’s museums provide a unique atmosphere for young people in the city.
“We are spoiled rotten in the sense that we can walk into a museum and pay nothing,” said Jenny Wei, an education specialist at the National Museum of American History and a former GW graduate.
Wei said that although most museums do not have the resources to appeal directly to young professionals as their main demographic, the internships and jobs they offer are great ways for young people to get their foot in the door.
“When the museum is trying to figure out how to blog about something or what to say on Facebook, they come to the young professionals working in the office,” says Wei. “Technology is so much a part of our personal lives and we can use that personal experience in our work.”
Whether students come to D.C. for work, culture, nightlife, or politics, they are not alone.
Professionals in the City is one of many organizations in D.C. catering to young professionals living in the area. Professionals in the City started 10 years ago and has more than 200,000 members and plans 1,000 events a year.
“When I began this 10 years ago, I was a lawyer and gave it up because I felt there was a change in demographics in D.C., and a need to sell that void,” said Michael Karlan, president and founder of Professionals in the City. “We’re in New York and LA but a major difference is that most young people in D.C. didn’t grow up here and they want a community feeling. D.C. is our biggest operation and our home base.”
This article appeared in the November 12, 2009 issue of the Hatchet.