As the inaugural President and CEO of MCEDC, David Petr has hit the ground running to develop innovative strategies, strengthen partnerships and promote Montgomery County as a great place to do business. He is charged with leading the MCEDC effort to help businesses start, relocate and expand in the county, as well as connect them to top talent and marketing insight. With enthusiasm to spare, he continues to meet with hundreds of businesses, associations and community partners to better understand their priorities to help shape successful strategies. Through collaboration with strong leaders, his vision is to reinvent economic development for Montgomery County.
David joins MCEDC from the Central Florida Development Council, where as President and CEO, he achieved record-setting job creation and capital investment results. His unique talents in organizational transformation and team building in economic development programs align well with the immediate and long-term goals of Montgomery County. Previously, David was the Executive Director of the Winter Haven Economic Development Council in Florida. In Texas, he has held key marketing management positions in economic development and was an advertising agency owner in Austin.
David appreciates Montgomery County for its diversity of places, people and cultures. He loves exploring the many assets of the county — enjoying a play at the Olney Theatre Center, hiking along Bethesda’s Crescent Trail or discovering great Montgomery County parks with his kids. An avid photographer, he is frequently armed with his camera to capture the moment.
A graduate of the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign with a Bachelor’s in Advertising, he went on to pursue a Master’s in Advertising from the University of Texas at Austin. Between universities, David joined an archeological dig in which an amazing Creek Indian Village was discovered, dating back to the 1400s. His current adventure is to find innovative ways to bring partners together to create a stronger collective business impact throughout the region.
The friendly face that welcomes you at the front desk belongs to Sadé Allen, brand ambassador for MCEDC and sister organizations Visit Montgomery and WorkSource Montgomery. She supports projects in every department, often anticipating needs before she’s asked. Sadé greets visitors with a smile, coordinates conference room and other scheduling needs, and is an integral member of the economic development team.
Always eager to learn new things and build skills, she is happy to be part of a forward-thinking company that values professional growth. Her continuing educational plans include business management classes at Montgomery College.
Sadé brings a wealth of office and administration experience for a variety of companies, most recently as Office Manager for an APP and Web Design firm in Washington, D.C. But the draw of Montgomery County is strong. Sadé and her 4 siblings – all just one year apart - attended Gaithersburg High School and love living in the county. As a long-time resident, she sees the tremendous development in schools, new home construction and businesses. She counts diversity and entrepreneurial spirit as best reasons to start and grow a business here.
When not at work, Sadé may be found with family strolling along the winding pathways of RIO Washingtonian Center, one of her favorite spots, feeding ducks or paddle boating. The outing inevitably ends at her favorite restaurant, Uncle Julio’s. The best professional advice she’s received? “Do not be afraid to fail.” Failing is part of growing and learning. Which is a good lead in to her favorite football team, the Washington Redskins. Always an optimist, she thinks this is going to be their year!
He speaks 4 languages, a distinct advantage in a multi-cultural county like Montgomery. Spiros Balntas is the Director of Business Recruitment and is excited to help transform MCEDC into one of the most competitive economic development agencies in the country. He hails from the Sunshine State, most recently developing and implementing business and economic development strategies for the Central Florida Development Council.
Armed with a diverse economic development experience, Spiros has also been the Senior Business and Real Estate Manager for the Miami Downtown Development Authority. He has served in business development with foreign government agencies such as the UK Trade & Investment and the Taiwan External Trade Development Council.
Spiros received a bachelor’s degree from Florida International University and holds a Certified Economic Developer (CEcD) designation from the International Economic Development Council. An exclusive designation earned by only 1,100 people nationwide, it indicates extensive experience and continuous education in the field. He is implementing these best practices to work in Montgomery County.
Embracing the Florida life prior to his move here, Spiros partook in regattas during the Red Bull Flugtag/Air Show — competitors soaring their homemade flying machines. He also ran in the ING Miami half marathon. For now, he’s traded running shoes for biking shoes, and can be found exploring any one of Montgomery County’s biking trails. Best professional advice he’s received? Work smarter, not harder. Spiros is a master of both. And by the way, those 4 languages are Italian, Spanish, Greek and English.
If a ribbon cutting to celebrate a business expansion is on the calendar, there’s a good chance Lynne Stein Benzion is on hand to support it. She is MCEDC’s Director of Business Retention and Expansion, with many years of experience in the economic development arena and deep roots in the local business community. She visualizes the true potential of MCEDC as a regional and national leader that capitalizes on the County’s cultural diversity to help new ideas and industries grow and thrive. She looks forward to helping develop programs that strengthen the economy.
She has worked as the Vice President of Strategic Planning for the Business Development Board in Palm Beach County, Florida, where she was responsible for short-and long-term planning as well as special projects. She also helped develop strategies, oversaw major projects, and managed task forces. Locally, she was at Rockville Economic Development, Inc, (REDI) for almost a decade, most of the time as Deputy Director, where in addition to retention and redevelopment duties, she orchestrated major conferences and was a public face of the organization, regularly tapped by media for her business expertise.
A graduate of the University of Virginia, she holds a Certified Economic Developer (CEcD) designation from the International Economic Development Council, earned by only 1,100 people nationwide. It indicates extensive experience and continuous education in the field. She is also a graduate of Leadership Montgomery, Class of 2012.
Off-hours, you may find Lynne ice skating at Cabin John or Wheaton Regional Park, taking in a museum exhibit, cooking and eating incredible produce from one of the local farmers’ markets, or more likely in rehearsal. Lynne is a classically-trained singer with the National Philharmonic Chorale, which performs at The Music Center at Strathmore in Rockville. Like a choir, her economic development work brings together many diverse voices.
Christy Blake knows her way around economic development. She also knows her way around the metro region, having worked in economic development capacities in Loudoun, Fairfax and Alexandria, VA, as well as Hagerstown, MD. Christy holds a Master in Urban Planning from Virginia Tech, with a graduate certificate in Economic Development. Her broad, regional experience is a perfect fit for her new role as Business Development Manager for MCEDC.
Christy joins MCEDC most recently from the Loudoun County Department of Economic Development, where she was a Business Development Manager. She’s also held other management positions for economic development offices in Northern Virginia, working in community building, revitalization efforts, business development and research. Christy is taking lessons learned over the years and using that experience to influence strategy, direction and idea generation in Montgomery.
With her regional perspective, Christy is excited about the innovation that is happening in MoCo, along with the county’s welcoming and ‘business friendly’ approach. She appreciates MoCo as a unique melting pot of cultures and for its diversity in business.
When not cooking up business development, she may be found entertaining with her regionally-famous Collard Green Wrap Butternut Squash and Beef Enchiladas. Hiking, yoga, mountain biking and travel are her passions, with future getaway plans to include Colombia, South America. Best professional advice she’s received can be translated into math equations: 5+4=9 and so does 3x3 — choose your own path and allow others to do the same. Good advice no matter what county you live in.
Nicole and art have always gone together, like peas in a pod. As a little girl, she loved to color and create books and posters using any art supplies she could find. Today, she uses her creative mind to help the marketing team brand MCEDC, including the website and identity system, conceptualizing for print and digital, and developing collateral and tradeshow materials. She’s a visual thinker with a passion for art direction, storytelling, and design.
Her experience includes work at advertising agencies, in-house creative and design studios, working for companies including Discovery Communications, Johnson & Johnson, Nestlé, AARP and Toys ”R” Us. Most recently, she worked in the creative department at the advertising & public affairs firm of GMMB.
A graduate of the Corcoran College of Art + Design, Nicole is excited to tell the story of Montgomery County through marketing initiatives, outdoor campaigns, branding, and social. She lives and works in the county, and enjoys finding new parks and exploring hot spots around town like RIO Washingtonian Center and Downtown Crown.
She lived overseas for most of her childhood as the daughter of a State Department Foreign Service Officer — not many kids can say they’ve lived in Belgium, Canada, Chad, Djibouti, France and Mexico. Being a child of the world helped Nicole gain a different perspective and appreciate diversity. But the one place that always felt like home was Montgomery County. She’s happy to be back to raise her kids in a county that has top schools and values diversity.
Professionally, she plans to join the Art Director’s Club of Washington, DC and AIGA, a professional association for designers. Personally, she still loves to color with her kids.
Every visit to MCEDC starts with Meaghann Diez, who is the go-to person for coordinating schedules, meetings and office activities. She is the Executive Assistant to David Petr, helping to keep his very busy (and changing) schedule on track, assisting with correspondence and overseeing numerous office responsibilities.
Meaghann joins the company with strong experience in administrative and procurement, especially for construction and development companies. Previous employers include Mid-Atlantic Builders, Wilco Companies, Axent Realty Group and Keller Brothers. She has also been the Executive Assistant to two Vice Presidents while at Healthy Directions, supporting a staff of 90-plus employees. From small to large companies, Meaghann has it well covered.
Meaghann is excited to be part of an organization that is helping others grow and thrive in the community where she lives and works. As a long-time resident of Montgomery County, she has seen the tremendous growth first hand, and knows her way around the county. Originally from San Francisco, she’s lived in Gaithersburg, Poolesville and Germantown. Her favorite restaurant is Cava, a homegrown success story that’s quickly added locations around the region — and started by local guys she knew growing up in Gaithersburg.
She gives of her time to local nonprofits, especially those working with youth, including Maryland Leadership Workshops and the Sandy Hook Promise foundation. She and her family stay active, frequently grabbing all 4 kids and 2 dogs, and heading to local parks or sporting events. They often cheer on hometown favorite teams, like the Washington Wizards or Washington Nationals. With Meaghann’s top-notch organizational skills, we’re glad she’s now playing for the MCEDC team.
Growing up in Spring, Texas, Warren willed a creative lifeboat out of museums, 60s musicals, Eames chairs and everything Halston! Through the years he sharpened his conceptual creativity and ability to assimilate abstract concepts into art — skills he continues to hone today as the Vice President of Marketing for MCEDC.
Warren leads the creative strategy for MOCO LABS — MCEDC’s marketing team, as well as manages external vendors — all in partnership to brand MCEDC and Montgomery County as a great place to do business. He loves the strategic interconnectivity of print and digital, social and public relations campaigns, and how they can craft lifestyles and change minds.
Warren holds a Bachelor of Science in Advertising from The University of Texas at Austin. Prior to joining MCEDC, Warren led, guided and created national branding campaigns for Young and Rubicam New York, FCB Draft, Discovery Communications, NRG Energy and Capital One Financial.
When not in the lab, he can be found roaming the many fascinating cultural venues of MoCo including taking in a play at Olney Theatre or enjoying live music at the Fillmore. In D.C., you might find him discovering the perfect brunch in Eastern Market, taking in a museum or enjoying theatre with friends. If someone asks, “What are you wearing?” You can count on it being from Banana Republic, his stylist of choice. A man of good taste, he’s using his Interior Design degree to help choose the décor of our new office. He approaches each day with optimism and joy, and counts himself lucky to be in a profession he loves. And yes, he still wears Halston Z-14.
As an economic developer who also has juris doctor credentials next to her name, Nadia Khan is excited for the opportunity to help businesses gain local knowledge, resources and expertise to help them thrive in the county. She is a Business Development Specialist with MCEDC following work as an attorney for a Montgomery County law firm, representing national mortgage lenders in real estate and foreclosure litigation.
If details are at stake, Nadia is ready to pitch in, easily delving into the finer points of the latest financing options, tax credits, legislation, and zoning issues that may affect local businesses. She can locate the relevant section of the Montgomery County Code ‘faster than you can finish reading this sentence.’ A graduate of Johns Hopkins University with a degree in International Relations and a concentration in economic development, she graduated from Boston University School of Law with a juris doctor degree, and is a member of the Maryland State Bar Association.
In her current capacity, Nadia looks forward to helping new and existing businesses, and pursuing outreach efforts to understand and address their challenges. She is especially passionate about engaging with a diverse range of businesses including those that are traditionally underrepresented or minority-ownedto ensure that the economic development policy is reflective of the rich diversity of the county. The more voices that are represented, the better, Nadia notes.
When not at work, Nadia may be found enjoying the great outdoors including exploring local gem, Brookside Gardens. She may have a coffee in hand from one of the many MoCo independent coffee shops like newcomer Coffee Republic or Black Lion Cafe, for an Ethiopian twist. The proximity to D.C. and its many museums is a big draw, especially the National Museum of African American History.
In an unexpected resume twist, Nadia once worked as a production assistant on an independent horror film that was filmed and produced in Maryland – her consolation prize when she didn’t land the coveted lead actress role. We’re glad she has switched gears from the silver screen to the sweet spot of economic development.
Sharath Mekala comes to MCEDC with a long track record of achievements, joining as a Business Development Specialist on the attraction and recruitment team. He frequently hears that he resembles former LA Lakers star, Kobe Bryant, but the similarities don’t end there. Like Kobe, Sharath is deeply disciplined, getting to the gym every morning at 5 AM. He relentlessly pursues perfection in his work, no matter the obstacles. Sharath has been a community organizer for the Atlanta Planning Advisory Board. He’s worked with local officials during the foreclosure crisis to turn vacancies into livable homes. Sharath has also managed business risk at Travelers Insurance, analyzing Fortune 500 companies. Another challenge that he’s tackled was working in Tesla’s energy division to reimagine energy infrastructure.
A graduate of Georgia State University, he not only earned a degree in Risk Management and Insurance but put his entrepreneurial spirit to the test by creating his first tech startup. Sharath’s also the founder of another tech startup to fight crime, a venture called VillageDefense, for which he raised capital. Always learning and growing, he is an alum of 500Startups and the Points of Light Civic Accelerator. Between startups, Sharath studied abroad in Tokyo. To this day, he enjoys regular visits to Brookside Garden’s Japanese gardens with family to reconnect with nature and his Far East experience.
Sharath is excited to be back home in Montgomery County, where he brings his broad experience and varied skillset to help the business development team increase jobs and revenue for the County, and build pipelines to talent and employment opportunities. Like an All-Star, Sharath is ‘all-in’ to spread the spirit of innovation in Montgomery County.
Sarah has worked in community and economic development in Montgomery County and across Pennsylvania for the past 18 years. She has created riverfront parks, supported new farms, kick-started incubators and engaged civic leaders as they reimagined their former industrial towns. Wherever she is, Sarah’s professional goal remains the same — to provide people with access to new economic opportunities. As MCEDC’s Director of Strategic Initiatives, she is tasked with carrying out the board’s special projects, the first of which is growing the emerging cybersecurity industry.
Formerly, Sarah was Special Assistant to the Secretary in the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development, Capital Projects Manager for the Department of Economic Development in Montgomery County, and spent many years working in Pittsburgh.
A graduate of Ohio University, where she studied community health, she also received a Master’s from Carnegie Mellon University in Public Policy & Management, with a concentration in economic development. She just began a two-year term on the Montgomery County Food Council and also serves on the incubator committee at Bethesda Green.
In her spare time, Sarah often has her family and friends in tow for outdoor adventures. She and her family frequent Sugarloaf Mountain, the Sligo Creek trail and the C&O Canal. She quenches her thirst locally with Rockhill Orchard’s free-range chocolate milk and Denizen’s Ponch’s Porter. In addition to believing the Agricultural Reserve is the County’s most valuable resource, she’s also an ardent public transit fan, taking Metro into DC nearly every weekend to see some art, have brunch, attend a protest or visit her favorite stops like Eastern Market.
Throughout her economic development work, Sarah takes a holistic view of the community with an eye towards understanding how it’s changing and promoting innovation within it. Her plans for change here in Montgomery County are most definitely welcome.
Emmanuel Olaoye is a Business Development Specialist on the business expansion team, with plans to help bring new companies to Montgomery County as well as contribute to strategic initiatives for MCEDC. He brings an international perspective and an eagle-eye for detail from his days working as a financial journalist. His first break came in London, where he joined a startup that was later acquired by Thomson Reuters. Emmanuel covered financial regulations and dealt extensively with banks, broker dealers and financial regulators. The reporting work brought him to New York and Washington, D.C. where he felt immediately at home.
A graduate of the University of Essex, England with a bachelor’s degree in Economics, he combines his interests for business, finance and economics in work with MCEDC. Joining an economic development team is a natural fit as Emmanuel is passionate about helping small and medium size businesses grow. He recognizes the unique attributes of Montgomery County for success, with its highly-educated and diverse workforce, and proximity to Congress and federal agencies. He recognizes that these factors give businesses opportunities that other areas cannot.
True to his European roots, Emmanuel enjoys watching and playing soccer. He’s also a boxing fan – having spent some time in the ring, but now more often enjoys watching from a safe distance. Emmanuel stays active attending festivals in the park and cultural events, and there’s no shortage of events to enjoy in Montgomery County and nearby D.C.
While he was born in London, his family spent some of his early years in Nigeria. Emmanuel counts his globe-trotting life as a great contributor to his current work in economic development. He connects easily with people and understands different cultures on a personal level.
The best advice he’s received? Always focus on win-win outcomes in every encounter. That sounds like good advice, in the boxing ring and in life.
Montgomery is truly a mosaic of people and cultures, and well-known as a welcoming county where diversity is celebrated. Daniel Parra plans to connect with the many diverse communities as the Small and Minority Business Development Director for MCEDC. In this capacity, he is reaching out to minority and ethnic Chambers of Commerce and other business groups to learn about their constituencies, services, and priorities. With this knowledge, Daniel will help fill gaps and find what’s needed to help grow businesses while cultivating partnerships and opportunities within communities.
Already well known within the Asian, African, and Hispanic communities, Daniel brings a high level of trust and professionalism to his work. He is bilingual in English and Spanish and joins MCEDC with 20 years of experience as a resourceful manager with a strong understanding of business expansion opportunities and networking. Most recently, he was the President/Executive Director of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce for Montgomery County, where he worked with the Board of Directors to develop program to support business members, advocated and networked for the community and developed an international exchange forum for business owners. He is as comfortable chatting with local business owners as he is with legislators to advocate for small business owners.
Previously, he’s held positions as a District Sales Manager for Avon, Inc.; Financial Counselor and Educator, Hispanic Committee of Virginia; Managing Director, MD office for Latino Economic Development Corporation; and as an ESL (English as a Second Language) professional. He graduated with a Bachelor of Science in Economics degree from the Universidad Autónoma de Colombia, Santafé de Bogotá, Colombia.
But Montgomery County is home, where he enjoys exploring new restaurants, taking in sporting events and spending time with family. And as it turns out, he is willing to take a risk. When he was invited and gently challenged by his daughter to sky dive, he took a leap of faith and stepped out of a small plane in New York. Exhilarating as that experience was, Daniel is now hitting the ground running to help businesses take off from here in Montgomery County.
Richelle Wilson is the Research Manager for MCEDC, responsible for creating market reports and supporting the business development team with market and business intelligence. She recently held the position of Research Analyst at Cushman & Wakefield, where her focus was on the suburban Maryland market. She authored quarterly reports, created ad hoc research, researched and analyzed local commercial real estate trends, and also assisted brokers with presentations for clients.
In her current position with MCEDC, Richelle is expanding her research skills by connecting more directly with the business community. She looks forward to helping MCEDC become the ‘go-to’ organization for businesses, regardless of size. Richelle gives back to the community as an auxiliary member of the Washington School for Girls and as an Ambassador for the National Museum of African American History and Culture.
Her family’s native country is Liberia, and she loves to cook the foods of her heritage including the famous one-pot rice dish called Jollof rice. A self-proclaimed “sci-fi geek,’ she doesn’t miss Game of Thrones or the latest Star Trek flick. She’s got a bucket list of places to visit including Western Africa, South Africa and Europe.
Richelle is a graduate of Hampton University in Hampton, Virginia. Go Pirates! She is excited to spread the word about Montgomery County as a welcoming place for business. “Where else can you find a county that is so strong in the sciences field, close to the White House and rich in cultural diversity?”
In a culturally diverse county like Montgomery, Robel Worku fits right in with his global background and outlook. His family hails from Ethiopia, he speaks fluent Amharic, the language native to Ethiopia, and has studied abroad in the Dominican Republic. Today, he is a Business Development Specialist with MCEDC, tasked with assisting in recruitment and retention efforts for target industry sectors.
He has previously worked as an innovation fellow for the Montgomery County Innovation Program, focusing on public and private partnerships that bring smart city technology to the county. A graduate of the University of Maryland with a bachelor’s degree in Communication and Media Studies, he is also a Gilman scholar who received a scholarship to intern abroad with UMD’s Smith School of Business. The coveted internship landed him in the Dominican Republic, where he worked with the Community Enterprise Solutions, a non-governmental organization (NGO). In addition to business training for budding entrepreneurs, the group provided concrete tools like solar lamps, water filters and reading glasses. These experiences helped him understand that basic needs must be met first before a business can take off.
In his current work, Robel looks forward to helping build bridges that connect entrepreneurs and businesses to the county government and their resources. He hopes to help plant the seed for businesses to think of MCEDC first as an invaluable partner for success in the county.
The ever-growing diversity in the area and abundance of things to do contribute to his love of the area, a place he’s called home since the age of 8. His crash course in learning English came from 90’s favorites like The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Bill Nye the Science Guy and Boy Meets World. Robel also gives a shout out to Wikipedia, a go-to resource that he credits for helping him through college. In his free time, he can be found hitting the gym, playing and watching sports, creating art sketches or traveling with friends. An avid fan of psychology and science fiction books, Robel draws inspiration from Elon Musk, who he sees as a fearless innovator and futurist. He is doing his part to add forward-thinking companies to the county’s business roster.