Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich is hoping to consolidate several functions of economic development into one office, or department, with the goal of crafting a new strategy.
Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Jerome Fletcher told the County Council’s Planning, Housing and Economic Development (PHED) Committee on Monday that a number of county government functions related to economic development are housed in miscellaneous departments, such as the county’s incubator program, which is housed in the Department of Finance.
Other programs include neighborhood revitalization, currently part of the housing department, and regional constituent issues, a function of the county’s five regional services centers.
Following the privatization of the former Department of Economic Development in 2015, many functions were placed in the Montgomery County Economic Development Corp., a public-private partnership. Others were outsourced to different county agencies.
Fletcher, in an interview Monday, said the executive branch is working on the reorganization effort and doesn’t know when it will occur.
“It may look slow, but this deliberate approach allows us to make sure the right people are there,” he said.
During the committee meeting Monday, Council member Andrew Friedson said he was concerned that the county was “focused on the trees without looking at the forest” when it comes to economic development.
In an interview after the meeting, Friedson said he wants to better understand the county executive’s metrics and overall strategy for economic development.
“It raises the question that I’ve been asking for months … that we have been asked to evaluate individual decisions related to economic development without a broad and comprehensive strategy for the changes the county executive would like to make,” he said.
A series of reports by outside economic agencies have consistently shown that Montgomery County often lags behind its Northern Virginia counterparts on job growth, often leading to the perception that the county is unfriendly to business.
Friedson said his comments Monday had less to do with economic policy than with the lack of information about the process happening in the executive branch.
“How do we do our job on behalf of the public? How do we provide transparency in government and have a process that can be followed with some amount of faith and trust? … This isn’t about policy. It’s about process and good government,” he said.
Fletcher said in the interview that the creation of a new agency would likely require the council’s approval. He said he hopes the PHED committee updates will be helpful in including council members in the process.
“I want to be their partner. I don’t want to surprise them. I want to communicate in a way that brings us closer together,” he said.
Dan Schere can be reached at Daniel.firstname.lastname@example.org.