ECONOMIC DEVELOPMENT AND QUALITY OF LIFE
While many candidates use “economic development” as a buzzword, I actually have a plan, driven by values of integrity and inclusiveness, to start and expand local businesses. Improving Montgomery County’s economic vitality with family-sustaining jobs is essential to preserving our cherished quality of life and to keep pace with growing needs.
The challenges in front of us are real: an aging population, federal budget cuts, and increased poverty and income inequality among them. Private-sector jobs have recovered slowly since the Great Recession, and many of the new jobs that replaced the old jobs pay less. But while there is a lot about the economy that is beyond our control – there’s no silver bullet for job growth – there is much that the county can do to create the conditions for businesses to start and thrive.
My vision is a modern economy that encourages entrepreneurship, moves people and goods efficiently, develops today’s and tomorrow’s workforce, ensures regulations are sensible, and promotes opportunity for all.
I want to create, retain and attract good jobs by giving businesses a great place to be, not by giving away your tax dollars. I also want to make sure that the development that comes with economic growth is done right. We see the effects of dumb growth policy every day – clogged roads, overcrowded schools, and county services stretched thin. I will work to make sure that future development is concentrated in job centers with access to public transportation and other amenities, and that developers support needed infrastructure. We know that this kind of development fosters vibrant economies.
Here is my five-point plan for progressive economic growth:
Most job growth comes from new businesses expanding in the location in which they were founded. I will focus on incubating new start-up businesses and nurturing their expansion, as well as growing existing businesses. Other jurisdictions have creative small business incubators that provide the support and training that can help an entrepreneur translate a great idea into a successful product, and we can learn from their successes to grow a stronger local economy. The empty spaces in shopping centers and office buildings were once filled with small businesses, and we need to nourish a new generation of entrepreneurs to refill them.
Another sector I want to preserve and expand is light industrial. I have resisted proposals to turn Montgomery County’s light industrial zones into residential developments because many of today’s entrepreneurs are actually making things. There is an urban manufacturing movement going on, and I want there to be room in the county for these new businesses to scale up.
Montgomery County is a national center of biomedical and other cutting-edge research. We are home to innovators who need county government as a partner to turn their ideas into thriving new businesses that offer quality jobs and have a ripple effect across our economy.
As a councilmember, I have nurtured a lower-tech business: winemaking. With my encouragement, county government and the revenue authority are joining forces to finance and operate a new winery in Poolesville that will boost our rural economy and train our young people for jobs in an industry with tremendous growth potential.
Finding and fostering these kinds of opportunities is what economic development is all about. I will work with the revenue authority, community development banks, and others to make sure small businesses and startups can get the credit they need at each step in their growth. I will also explore out-of-the-box ideas, like replicating Takoma Park’s Localvesting concept, which enables residents to make small loans to local businesses.
I am also excited about tapping into our county’s entrepreneurial spirit to help solve tough public policy challenges, from traffic congestion to code enforcement to waste disposal. The federal government has a model for opening such challenges up to the public and rewarding entrepreneurs with the best ideas, and I believe we can adopt that model in the county - we have a wealth of knowledgeable, creative and innovative residents.
MOVE PEOPLE, GOODS, AND DATA EFFICIENTLY
Surveys indicate that the quality of life in an area – including transportation systems and schools – matters far more when businesses are making their initial location decisions than the tax breaks and other financial incentives they might be offered.
The bus rapid transit (BRT) system proposal that I initiated and have been advocating for during my time on the County Council thus holds real potential as a tool for job growth. Businesses have made an issue of the lack of transit as an impediment to growth. If we want entrepreneurs to create startups or expand existing businesses, they need to feel confident that their employees have a reliable way of getting to and from work, that their customers can get to their stores, and that they will be able to transport the goods and services they need to stay in business. Many millennials prefer transit to cars and find the county’s lack of mobility discouraging and uninviting. This is something we absolutely have in our control to improve.
A well-implemented BRT system would reduce future congestion and move more people than roadways alone, making the county a more attractive location for businesses of all sizes. It would greatly benefit residents as they try to get to work, go shopping, or participate in other activities without having to drive.
I also support the addition of two reversible lanes on I-270 to relieve the county’s most congested corridor, and I will work with the governor and our regional partners to turn around Metro and put it on a sustainable path for the future. Even with new dedicated funding, Metro faces many challenges.
In our information-driven economy, we also need to move data faster. I plan to continue County Executive Leggett’s initiative to make ultra-high-speed broadband access more affordable and widely available to public, private, governmental, and educational institutions. Ultra high-speed broadband access is critical to making Montgomery County a center for Internet innovation and growing high-paying, knowledge-based jobs.
DEVELOP OUR WORKFORCE
I will work with the school system, including Montgomery College, to make sure our students are prepared for middle-skill jobs that don’t necessarily require a four-year degree but do require post-high-school education. Expanding work-based learning opportunities to fill gaps in the local job market is good for our business community. We should also expand apprenticeship programs in cooperation with the building trades organizations that need the next generation of skilled workers.
I also want to offer trade certification programs in our high schools. We have long treated these programs as belonging in community college, but many high school students get discouraged if they don’t think they’re going to college. Being able to gain job-ready skills will keep many more students engaged in high school.
In addition, I will collaborate with local businesses to expand the county’s youth summer jobs program for 16-24 year-olds. A summer job is a stepping stone to a brighter future, especially for disadvantaged youth. It teaches basic work habits, builds a professional network, and gives young people a sense of opportunity.
At the other end of the age spectrum, there has been a great deal of handwringing about how the aging of the county’s population will slow economic growth. I know many seniors who want and/or need to work beyond traditional retirement age (myself, for instance) and are looking for meaning and flexibility in their second career. I will partner with business, nonprofit, and educational leaders to inform seniors of job opportunities, provide age-specific job training, enforce age-discrimination laws, and connect seniors with volunteer positions that can lead to employment.
But even with more seniors working, the aging of the population presents a challenge for sustaining the labor pool necessary for economic growth. Two groups are especially important to the county’s future workforce: immigrants and millennials.
As County Executive, I will ensure that Montgomery County continues to be a welcoming community and support training programs to help immigrants gain the language and trade skills needed to fully participate in the job market and give them entrepreneurship opportunities.
To attract and retain millennials, a key strategy is to enliven our urban centers after hours. I served on the county’s Nighttime Economy Task Force and will follow through on its recommendations to expand arts and entertainment options, activate public spaces, and promote food trucks, craft breweries, and other small businesses that appeal to young professionals. These steps, and the broader effort to create a sense of place with appropriate mixed-use developments in our downtowns and reliable and effective transit, will make Montgomery County more competitive as a location for larger businesses.
I believe in empowering workers. Raising the minimum wage and mandating sick leave were not popular with the business community, but these policies will make Montgomery County a more attractive place to live and work in the long term. Similarly, expanding Pre-K and child care options will allow more parents to work and make workers more productive, benefiting the local economy. I will also look for ways to encourage cooperatives and employee ownership to give workers a greater voice and increase wealth.
MAKE REGULATIONS MORE SENSIBLE
I will work cooperatively with business leaders to understand what they need to thrive in Montgomery County. A Business Roundtable with representatives from across the private sector will advise me on how the county can give support, speed up service, or, when necessary, just get out of the way. To the extent that we have cumbersome and inappropriate regulations, we need to change them, and to the extent that regulatory costs are excessive, we need to lower them.
I will use Lean process improvement to streamline procurement, permitting, and other regulations that create red-tape for businesses. One of the important lessons that government can learn from successful businesses is to put the customer first, and that’s what I will do.
I recognize that the county’s energy tax is a major concern for local businesses. It was doubled in 2010 to address the massive budget shortfall caused by the Great Recession, and while the economy is doing better, our county is still struggling to meet important needs, like traffic congestion and overcrowded schools. The tax generates nearly $200 million in revenue for the county and is also paid by federal and state agencies and nonprofits that do not pay property tax. I also think it’s important to remember that Northern Virginia has a 3% gross receipts tax that exclusively affects businesses in the county and raises more money from them - about $160 million - than the energy tax raises from Montgomery County businesses. I am interested in helping businesses reduce their energy tax cost through energy efficiency improvements. Doing so would also contribute to achieving our goal of zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2035.
PROMOTE OPPORTUNITY FOR ALL
There is an east-west economic divide in Montgomery County, where investment and opportunity have historically flowed to the west and the east remains poorer, less connected to jobs and retail, and more vulnerable to economic downturns. The pent-up economic potential of east county is incredible, and unleashing it will make life better for thousands of residents.
Route 29, the main east county artery, will be the first with bus rapid transit. Better transportation, together with a new science-focused development plan in White Oak, will begin to revitalize this long-neglected corridor, but more needs to be done. I will look for ways to revive empty shopping centers further north and preserve affordable housing so that Montgomery County is welcoming to working-class families.
Any successful economic growth strategy has to be regional. Balanced growth across Northern Virginia, the District, and Montgomery, Prince George’s, Howard, and Frederick counties is the key to reducing sprawl and congestion, attracting employers of all kinds, and giving more people a better, more affordable quality of life. I will pay special attention to the corridors that connect us to our neighbors, such as Langley Park, Georgia Avenue, Wisconsin Avenue, Connecticut Avenue, the American Legion Bridge, I-270, and Route 29, where I see opportunities for game-changing improvements.
Another way to promote equitable economic development is for the county to do business with small and minority- and women-owned businesses. I will look to the 2015 report of the Minority Owned and Local Small Business Task Force, which made several recommendations, the most urgent being that the county meet its own goals for minority procurement. We need to do better, and as I talk with business leaders around the county who occupy this business space, I have heard a drumbeat of concern over how little has changed. If I’m elected County Executive, I guarantee that things will change. I will give these goals high priority, take steps to make the entire procurement process more inclusive and effective, and get vendors paid on time.
Tracking our progress
I’m a big believer in the adage, “What gets measured get done.” I will develop a dashboard to track the county’s key economic indicators. I define the economy in broad terms, so my dashboard will measure not only employment and wages, but also things like commuting times, energy costs, educational attainment, and even obesity. I will also measure the performance of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation and fund it based on how well it is doing its job, and I will make sure the county’s workforce development programs can show evidence of results.