Capital cities have fascinated me since my early years in Columbus, Ohio. Fond memories of the state capitol building and its impressive presence in the center of downtown still resonate with me today. With Columbus being the legislative hub, Central Ohio residents were always at ground zero in terms of state politics—a refreshing break from the Ohio State football buzz, a dominant source of local media attention.

Beyond Columbus, my early experiences with capital cities were mostly of the Midwestern persuasion. Indianapolis, the first residential stop for me after leaving Columbus, has rapidly become a first-class destination for sports enthusiasts attracted to events ranging from NCAA basketball tournaments to the Indianapolis 500 racing spectacle. Lansing, Michigan, and Madison, Wisconsin, are areas I frequented regularly for myriad reasons, such as stunning capitol buildings and prominent Big Ten universities. Springfield, Illinois, in many ways the step-child of Chicago, is a capital city situated in a very rural part of the state. With the support of Abraham Lincoln, it became the state’s legislative home in 1837. It also is where U.S. President Barack Obama spent his formative years as a state politician.

Having resided in three other capital cities and spent appreciable time in numerous others, I have observed that these metropolitan centers possess a unique flavor in terms of feel and culture. Capital city economies are heavily reliant on state worker payrolls contributing to relatively stable employment and residential patterns.  These locales also command a strong showing of trade associations, lobbying organizations, labor unions, and advocacy groups seeking to steer legislative agendas toward their specific causes. This confluence makes capital cities stimulating environments for livability and commerce.

Washington, D.C., our nations hub since 1800, best reflects a capital city metropolis. Known as the National Capital Region, the D.C. area has morphed into a labyrinth of cities spiraling outward to Northern Virginia and Maryland. Federal workers aside, its local economy receives a heavy infusion of tourists and emissaries of official government business. The area also features a hightech corridor that is quickly gaining a reputation similar to that of Austin, Boston and San Jose. With its steady influx of diverse professionals, the areas surrounding communities are among the most progressive and racially integrated in the nation.

Sacramento, where I currently reside, holds the distinction of being the capital of California—the most populous state in the union and the seventh-largest economy in the world. As a city, though, it is vastly overshadowed by San Francisco and Los Angeles, its cousins to the west and south, respectively. The past five years has been an awakening for “SacTown,” as it is affectionately called. Its reputation as a bathroom stop between the Bay Area and Lake Tahoe is turning a corner. In fits and starts, its downtown center is coming to life, and many of the outlying suburbs are gaining credibility as models of livability.

Despite promising gains, the Sacramento region continues to struggle with its onedimensional economy predicated on state jobs. The ever-present state budget crisis is evident within walking distance of the state capitol building as eateries and other establishments feel the impact of worker layoffs and furloughs. These struggles symbolize the plight of a growing number of capital cities— from Albany, New York, to Salem, Oregon—once bastions of lifetime employment.

An interesting contrast lies due east of Sacramento in Carson City, the capital of Nevada. This picturesque frontier town has historic ambiance and is surrounded by a mountainous backdrop. One of only five cities not served by an interstate highway, its small stature offers a refreshing alternative to the bigcity politics common in larger venues. It is also 250 miles away from the state’s population center, making it the nation’s second most remote state capital.

In the spirit of small, nondescript capital cities like Montpelier, Vermont, Helena, Montana, and Pierre, South Dakota, Carson City offered a greater freedom of mobility for the governor and top legislative officials, uncommon in more prominent big city capitals. Kenny Guinn, the governor during my two-year residency, was often sighted mingling among the locals, and with no security presence.

In the center of downtown amid local casinos sits the Nevada state capitol building—a landmark easily missed by the casual visitor who inadvertently blinks during a trek up Carson Street. Directly across from the capitol is Comma Coffee, a popular local hangout that was the site of numerous presidential campaign stops during the last election. On a personal note, Comma is distinctive for being the place where my life partner Beth and I first crossed paths and eventually tied the knot.

To this day capital cities continue to intrigue me. As centers of legislative and employment activity they represent essential elements of our nation’s economic recovery efforts—and key areas of prosperity for our states.

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