5 Point Plan to Power Up Montgomery County’s Economy
October 8, 2019
Montgomery County is an amazing place. There is so much positive change here. We get so many important things right.
We are also facing some challenges, particularly when it comes to economic development. Our job growth has slowed and if the trend becomes a long term one, there will be profound consequences.
That is why I am working on an economic development plan — to help us power up.
The need is clear. In 2018, Virginia generated 71% of all new jobs in the Washington region, according to the Fuller Institute. So far, 2019 numbers show Virginia generating an even larger share of the region’s jobs, as high as 90%.
This is a huge change from the historical pattern, where Maryland generated about one-third of the jobs. For Montgomery County, it threatens our sustainability.
For the past year, I have been talking with business and education leaders about how to chart a better course. With a focus on public private partnerships to drive investment and policy, we can generate momentum and results.
Following are five policy areas that have risen to the top and that I intend to address in an ongoing manner as chair of the Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee.
Of course this list is not exclusive of other initiatives or economic development priorities. There are many others that we will be taking up, from 5g to opportunity zones to bus transformation to housing.
Nevertheless, these themes embrace multiple initiatives and have broad impact.
1. Purple Line Innovation District
Recently PHED was briefed on the affordable housing goals proposed by the Purple Line Corridor Coalition, a community driven campaign. To fulfill that inclusive vision, which calls for securing at least 6,000 units of affordable housing in the County along the corridor, we will need to develop a specific plan, targeting housing finance to acquisitions as well as spurring redevelopment with high affordable requirements. That conversation is underway.
With a housing strategy under development, we must maximize the economic potential of the Purple Line. It is a perfect tool to grow our economy, by creating a thriving urban environment that is connected to some of the world’s most powerful research hubs.
With Bethesda and NIH on one end of the line, NOAA, Montgomery College and Silver Spring just a few minutes from the University of Maryland and its nation-leading computer science program, with NASA and FDA nearby, the anchors are there for a technology-driven science corridor.
The Purple Line is a great opportunity to form a bi-county economic development partnership to recruit companies to the corridor, and I am working on that now with Danielle Glaros, Prince George’s PHED Chair. You have seen the news reports that Northern Virginia jurisdictions are working together to attract companies. We can do the same.
We need to work with business owners and educational institutions to explore locating new research labs and facilities in Silver Spring and Bethesda. There are many possibilities, from a new university campus to incubator lab space.
Beyond marketing the corridor, we need to build walkable and bikeable communities there. We have a model bike network under construction in Silver Spring and another one planned in Bethesda that we need to complete urgently. We need great public spaces.
It’s an incredible opportunity. Let’s work together to make the Purple Line corridor an inclusive economic engine for our future prosperity.
2. North Bethesda Economic Development
Our County has an expansive vision for an urban corridor up and down Rockville Pike. But you wouldn’t know it from what you see on the street there, as the road hasn’t changed much from its suburban highway imprint. That mismatch between our vision and reality is holding us back.
In North Bethesda, large employers are making investments in new office markets and vibrant communities. We can support them by enhancing Metro stations and rebuilding Rockville Pike to become a walkable, transit-oriented community.
Let’s start by building a new entrance to the White Flint metro. That has been a big battle for two consecutive capital budgets. Alongside Councilmember Andrew Friedson, I am a strong supporter of the project as well as remaking the intersections in that area so that they are safe and walkable.
With that in motion we also need to add add street furniture and art and design and actually create the vision that we are trying to market. North Bethesda can become a thriving urban center.
We have a lot to do to make North Bethesda into the dynamic office market that we have envisioned it to be to support our future growth. Let’s get going.
3. Tech Talent Pipelines
In today’s tech focused economy, companies chase talent and talent drives growth. Montgomery County is a talent factory thanks to our superb schools, higher education programs, and highly diverse community. But we can and should do more.
In our bid for Amazon HQ2, Maryland and Montgomery County pledged a major education investment to support Amazon’s job growth. Maryland and Montgomery County should follow through on that vision regardless of Amazon’s location, because it will help our County attract and retain technology focused companies, and support our residents and growth going forward.
Montgomery County and Maryland education leaders need to design more degree programs that are aligned with the emerging needs of our growing employers, through collaboration with the Universities at Shady Grove, Montgomery College and the University of Maryland, all workforce development powerhouses.
I convened a meeting with the Universities at Shady Grove, Montgomery College, KID, and Amazon to form a partnership for a new Cloud Computing degree program. The goal is to build a tech talent pipeline for cloud computing sectors.
The New York Tech Talent Pipeline initiative is another great model that should be duplicated. Bringing companies to the table with higher ed partners, they provide workers with no-cost training in tech specialities. We can do that here.
To diversify the pipeline, Montgomery County needs more STEM programs in schools and an ambitious apprenticeship program. Montgomery County should build off of its successful Summer Rise program, championed by Councilmember Craig Rice, to make internships year round. CareerWise Colorado is a great model to replicate.
And Councilmembers and the County Executive are working together on the possibility of a new KID museum / skills center and STEM school facility in Silver Spring, where we can model talent pipeline programs that promote equity.
Our first joint committee meeting of the PHED and Education Committees this year focused on the Tech Talent Pipeline. We are moving forward.
4. More Entrepreneurship from our Federal Labs
Finally, we need to focus on leveraging the tech resources we already have — some of the world’s most powerful research institutions — NIH, National Cancer Institute, NIST, to name a few.
These labs pack the same research power as America’s top universities. But universities have evolved into economic development engines more successfully than these Federal labs, thanks to deliberate strategy and policy making that supports entrepreneurship.
NIH spends more on research conducted here in Bethesda than it sends in grant money to all of the research institutes in Massachusetts, which fuels the vibrant Boston bio health sector. While NIH does spin off benefits to our growth, the state and county do not do nearly enough to leverage the opportunity.
To fuel our growing biohealth sector, we need to triple down on programs that support entrepreneurship in our community of NIH and National Cancer Institute scientists and visionaries. With NIST we can promote cybersecurity entrepreneurship. With FDA we can focus on medical devices; with NOAA, climate science and geographic and weather tech. That’s just a sampling.
At the highest level, reforming federal policies that keep innovations and scientists inside the labs must be an ongoing priority. We need to bring business and education partners together to advocate for commercialization strategies, whether federal legislative reforms or local talent partnerships.
I recognize that the payoff from a more intensive focus on leveraging labs would be long term. But it is a very realistic way for us to foster our own thriving economy.
5. Transit for Upcounty and Across the Potomac
Gaithersburg (a biohealth powerhouse), Germantown, and Clarksburg are envisioned as employment hubs. But companies are increasingly seeking transit-served locations with walkable amenities, which we need to expand Upcounty. That is why I am advocating for:
- The Corridor Cities Transitway
- BRT on 355 to Clarksburg
- BRT on 270 to Northern Virginia, as I have proposed to be added to the 270 managed lane plan
- Monorail to Frederick and Tysons, which I am exploring with the High Road Foundation
- MARC integration with VRE, enabling a one-seat ride from UpCounty to Crystal City
For the Upcounty areas to continue to thrive, we must connect them better by transit.
A spirit of public private partnership
These themes are not exclusive or comprehensive; there is more that we need to do in a variety of areas. These are, however, five areas that I plan to continue developing.
With our recent joint meetings with MCEDC, featuring the voices of our business leadership, the PHED committee has embraced a spirit of public private partnership in our economic development strategy.
Let’s keep listening and keep working together to get better results.
I welcome your feedback at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Chair, Planning, Housing, & Economic Development Committee