County Executive Ike Leggett says it’s time Montgomery County follows the lead of some of its regional competition when it comes to attracting businesses.
That’s why he will send a bill Friday to the County Council to establish a Montgomery County Economic Development Corp.
The nonprofit would be independent of county government and run by an 11-member board that would take over many of the responsibilities of the county’s Economic Development Agency.
“This structural change is part of a bigger move to better respond to the fast-changing dynamics and will greatly enhance private sector leadership in economic development,” Leggett said at a press conference Thursday.
The Economic Development Corp., or EDO, would mirror groups such as the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority and the Prince George’s County Economic Development Corp.
It would be responsible for marketing, attracting new businesses to the county, retaining existing ones and running entrepreneurship and innovation programs.
Run by a board primarily of private sector representatives that would hire its own CEO, the group would be more nimble than government when it comes to executing those responsibilities, Leggett said.
“We are ready. We are going to hold hands and jump off this cliff and make it happen,” said council memberNancy Floreen, who supports the bill “Nothing is easy in Montgomery County, as you know.”
The EDO would take a leading role in pitching a major corporation such as Bethesda-based Marriott International, Leggett said. Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson said in March that the company plans to move from its Fernwood Road headquarters to a more Metro-accessible location.
But the county and state governments would be involved in coming up with tax relief or development incentives for businesses that would be part of what Leggett called a “retention package.”
Sally Sternbach, acting director of the county’s Department of Economic Development, has said the county is already making its case to keep the Forbes 500 hotel giant that employs 2,000 people.
The future of the Department of Economic Development and its 40 county employees will be a major point of discussion among council members debating the EDO bill.
The department would retain its responsibilities for special projects, directing small businesses to the write government agencies and agricultural services.
“I intend to be very much involved in trying to address those employees’ concerns about their future,” council member George Leventhal said at the press conference. “I understand it’s hard to think about growing jobs for the county if you’re not sure about your own job. That’s why we have to act very quickly.”
Leggett said he’ll work to make sure the employees, about half of whom are represented by the Municipal and County Government Employees Organization, will be given new jobs within county government or rehired by the EDO.
Leggett asked the council to finalize the bill before its August recess so the EDO is ready to start operating by late spring 2016. Floreen said the Economic Development Committee she chairs has already scheduled work sessions on the EDO in June.
The county will fund the group, though officials offered no cost estimate other than to say it will be funded “at a level competitive to other comparable jurisdictions.”
The county hopes to have board members appointed and approved by January 2016.
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