A new report calls on Montgomery County to take 10 steps to stimulate economic growth, from creating a pandemic response center to preparing a quantum-ready workforce.
The report, entitled “Connecting the Dots: Accelerating Economic Growth in Montgomery County, MD,” was finalized by a 20-strong business council of business leaders across the county and commissioned by the county’s Economic Development Corporation.
The panel co-chairs were Norman Augustine, retired chairman and CEO of Lockheed Martin Corporation, and DeRionne Pollard, former president of Montgomery College and current president of Nevada State College.
The panel made 10 recommendations that elected officials, business leaders, nonprofits, and other groups should consider to improve the county’s economic prospects:
- Add more laboratory infrastructure, including up to 2 million square feet for the growing life science sector
- Building a global center for pandemic prevention and bio-defense
- Create an incubator for the hospital technology sector, including startups
- Create a quantum computing curriculum and regional cluster to create a quantum capable workforce
- Draft economic development plan for areas along the Purple Line Corridor, a light rail project from Bethesda to New Carrollton
- Established a $ 1 million public-private entrepreneurship innovation center
- Change the county incubator network to better support local incubators and entrepreneurship efforts
- Spend $ 1 million on marketing to rename economic development nationwide
- Identify opportunities to improve customer service and responsiveness from private sector customer service professionals
- Establish a county competition council to see how the county outperforms and falls short of regional and national competitors
Ben Wu, the president and CEO of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation, which released the report, said in an interview Wednesday that it shows that local leaders need to have a “sense of urgency” in trying to address the economic problems of the country To solve the district.
The county has assets, including in the bio-health and biotechnology industries, to address many of its future challenges, including attracting high-paying jobs and preventing job losses, Wu said. But it’s also “a victim of its own success” as businesses run out of space to do the job – which is why the panel has proposed up to an additional two million square feet of space.
“If we cannot live up to their growth and desire to come here, we will not be able to satisfy our ability to expand our industrial sector in the life sciences,” said Wu.
The report also recommends a pandemic prevention and bio-defense center given the county’s strength in the health and biotechnology sectors. Wu said the National Institutes of Health, the Food and Drug Administration, the Biomedical Advanced Research and Development Authority, and many companies are examples of why the area is ready for such a project.
“I think the panel wasn’t just calling for a center just because they thought it was cool,” said Wu. “They called for a center … because they understood how the life science assets in Montgomery County … could play a significant role in future pandemic prevention.”
However, aside from the county’s achievements, the report also states that Montgomery County can struggle for businesses to establish themselves.
“While it is expected that there will be examples of similar issues raised with state and local governments in virtually every community in the country, Montgomery County suffers from what appears to be a chronic perception of a negative business climate,” the report said.
Wu said the problem had also appeared in previous reports and that companies often have difficulty navigating the regulatory processes. The report also notes that the high cost of starting a business, rising housing costs, and rising corporate taxes could all lead to this perception.
County Council member Andrew Friedson said the report was a good addition to the legislation the council passed in May to bolster the county’s economic development strategy.
Like Wu, Friedson said that Montgomery County has many assets, including bio-health and biotechnology, to ensure future growth.
A Friedson-sponsored zoning change was presented to the council earlier this week. It should enable more companies in this industry to settle here.
The change to the zone text creates a framework for how bio-health companies can set up their businesses in the county and aims to streamline the regulatory process for new facilities or those that increase their capacity by 50,000 square feet or more.
“It needs a framework similar to what we set up for Amazon in 2018,” Friedson said in an interview. “We say if it’s good enough for Amazon, it’s good enough for the most important growth industry we have in the county.”
He added that he understands the challenges businesses can face, but hopefully his change to the zone text is one of many improvements the county can make.
“Some of it is perception, some of it is reality, but when it comes to economic development, perception is reality. … The [zoning text amendment] that we have introduced is a recent example of a major change to dramatically simplify the construction of bio-health facilities here, “Friedson said.
He and Wu said that all local partners, whether in the public, private or not-for-profit sector, need to work cooperatively on the challenges of economic development.
“That was also one of the expectations the panel had … that the publication of this report would be a call for everyone to come together,” said Wu.
Steve Bohnel can be reached at [email protected]