The District of Columbia economy generated almost $51 billion of goods and services in 1999. The sources of this economic activity—the District’s core industries—traditionally have been seen as the federal government, the hospitality industry, and business service firms. More recently, technology-based businesses have been pointed to as having significant economic potential within the District, building from their rapid growth in the suburban Washington economy. The building industry also has been a major driver of the District and metropolitan area economies.

The area’s universities with their 300,000 students are not usually included on this short list of major forces within the local economy. An economic impact study prepared by the Greater Washington Research Center for the George Washington University reported that in 1993 the university and hospital generated a total of $1.2 billion of direct and indirect economic activity within the Washington metropolitan area. Of this total economic impact, $248 million accrued to the District of Columbia economy. The university had 7,695 full and part-time employees including hospital personnel (but excluding students and temporary staff).