Bill Tompkins is all business. Specifically, all Montgomery County’s business.
As president and CEO of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corp. (MCEDC), Tompkins oversees an agency with a $6.2 million fiscal year 2023 budget and a staff of 25. Its aim? Attract public and private enterprises to the county, keep those that are here, and lend a hand to entrepreneurs just starting out.
With an MBA from Harvard and a resume that includes C-suite positions at The Washington Post, Eastman Kodak and the National Newspaper Publishers Association, Tompkins has the background to bring lofty ideas to an ambitious county.
He gently parries when asked his age—“old enough,” he says—but shows no such reticence when describing his enthusiasm for entrepreneurship. “I love private industry and the business sector,” he says. “I know what it means to have a bottom line. I know what it means to deliver on results where you are held accountable financially.”
Tompkins quips that his “favorite topic” is the county’s campaign to be chosen for the headquarters of the Advanced Research Projects Agency for Health (ARPA-H). A decision on the location, projected to employ 80 to 120, is expected in early fall.
With a $1.5 billion budget and what it describes as a “sweeping mandate to accelerate the development of high-impact solutions to society’s most challenging health problems,” ARPA-H is a high-priority initiative of the Biden administration.
“[It] is basically going to be one of the largest virtual think tanks in the world for advancing health care into the 22nd century,” Tompkins says. “We are working very hard to make sure they are here.”
The county’s extensive life sciences industry makes it an ideal location for ARPA-H headquarters, he says.
While MCEDC courts high-profile projects like ARPA-H, Tompkins estimates that “80% of our efforts are around business retention, that if a business is here, it means they already made an investment here and we want that investment to pay off in even bigger dividends going forward.”
New MCEDC initiatives include its “Be Next” campaign aimed at encouraging startups and entrepreneurs to make Montgomery County their home. “We’re also being much more aggressive” about helping small businesses find capital, Tompkins says.
The $1.5 million Accelerating Community Excellence Loan Fund, initiated in September 2022, makes capital available to small women- and minority-owned businesses that might not qualify for bank loans. Small business entrepreneurs from underserved communities “have a huge challenge with access to capital,” Tompkins says, often because they are so focused on running their business that they do not have time to strategize or network.
With its proximity to the nation’s capital and a well-educated, diverse workforce, Montgomery County claims business advantages many localities can only dream of. Tompkins says he welcomes “healthy competition” with the county’s neighbors but adds: “We want to make sure that Montgomery County … is what the people want it to be, not what makes us look better than Fairfax, D.C. or Prince George’s County.”
Tompkins believes the county has a story worth telling—to startups, companies considering relocation, and businesses already here.
“It’s one of the largest economies in the country for a county,” he says. “We want to make sure that it grows, that it’s more robust and that people understand when they’re dealing with Montgomery County that there’s a lot going on here businesswise.”
This story appears in the July/August issue of Bethesda Magazine.