MCEDC featured in the Washington Business Journal

Meet the new public-private partnership that’s trying to change Montgomery County

Mar 31, 2017, 6:15am EDT

Bizspace Spotlight

There’s a new economic development agency on our List, but it’s less “agency” than it sounds. Montgomery County has joined the club of public-private partnerships in the region. And its president and CEO, David Petr, who started the job in September after serving as president of the Central Florida Development Council Inc., is counting on that being a very big advantage.

“We’re really looking at economic development in a brand new way,” he said. To prove his point, he offered his favorite line of the mission statement he’d just presented to his board of directors: “We’re economic development, reinvented.” He spoke of being much more nimble, innovative and creative under the new structure. “You’ll see that our organization is going to engage private business in much deeper, more meaningful ways than in the past,” he said.

That comes at a good time for Montgomery County, whose biggest economic development win lately has been to hold on tightly to Marriott International Inc.’s massive headquarters, set to move to downtown Bethesda by 2022.

And after a considerably long drought of relocations, Montgomery has recently been able to snag the headquarters of real estate company The Donohoe Cos., which counts nearly 1,500 employees, from D.C. and global research and consulting firm Abt Associates Inc., which employs 1,800, from Cambridge, Massachusetts — deals announced in April and December last year, respectively.

Those deals, however, are not necessarily on the scale of a Nestle S.A.’s U.S. headquarters shifting from California to Arlington, or Hilton WorldwideNorthrop Grumman Corp. and Volkswagen of America, all of which have made Fairfax County home in recent years. So, the competition is still quite fierce.

So what’s the Montgomery County Economic Development Corp. doing about all this?

Out with the old

For one thing, the new organization is decluttering and streamlining. To make way for its more targeted focus on customer service, marketing and accelerating business growth, the county budget outlined several functions that are shifting out from the old Department of Economic Development but not into the new Economic Development Corp.

  • Small-business navigation: Formerly handled by the Division of Business Empowerment, now the county executive will be directly in charge of this. The old division assisted small businesses on issues of compliance and technical training.
  • Minority business assistance and outreach: This, also formerly part of the Division of Business Empowerment, has been shifted to the county’s Office of Procurement.
  • Special projects: The department’s former Division of Special Projects is going to be directly overseen by the county executive. This was kind of a grab-bag of public-private partnership endeavors, capital projects, legislation and strategic planning.
  • Workforce development: The old Workforce Services program for employers and jobseekers has been shifted into a separate nonprofit called WorkSource Montgomery Inc., another public-private partnership.
  • Agricultural business: Anything related to agriculture is now under the domain of the county’s Office of Agriculture. In the past, this included the promotion of the county’s agricultural businesses, preservation of farmland, co-sponsoring of farmers’ markets and an annual farm tour. New farmers also received assistance through a pilot program.
  • Financial management: The Department of Finance will now manage finances of the county’s Business Innovation Network, Economic Development Fund and small-business and technical assistance services.
  • American Film Institute: The county’s Department of General Services will take over managing the theater’s lease payments.

In with the new

The new MCEDC is the brainchild of County Executive Ike Leggett, who announced it in 2015 as a concept similar to Fairfax County’s Economic Development Authority, led by a board of regional business leaders. “Rather than be at the table,” Leggett told private sector leaders at a Washington Business Journal event in April 2015, “I’ve decided to literally give you the table.”

Here’s how that idea has turned into reality so far:

  • The budget: MCEDC’s first allocation is $4.2 million, which Petr said he hopes to grow. “We hope to be in the range of a $7-to-$8 million budget within a couple of years, as we get to full capacity,” he said.
  • Outreach Montgomery: This is a new key initiative Petr outlined to me as a major retention and expansion program for local businesses, involving more face-to-face meetings on what existing businesses need to grow in the county. “We recognize that we need to take care of the companies that are within Montgomery County,” he said.
  • Montgomery 365: This marketing campaign, launching this July 1, includes a unique message every day for a full year, either about the organization or the county itself. Petr described it as a peer-to-peer marketing effort, consisting of social media, traditional print advertising, broadcast, digital and events.
  • Cybersecurity: Last summer, even before Petr was hired, the new organization’s board embarked on a cybersecurity working group study to focus on growing this niche in the county. The group explored the region’s cyber facilities, research centers, educational resources, companies, contractors, nonprofits and customers with plans to analyze the results in an effort to recruit more cyber companies. Another industry Petr is pursuing specifically is life sciences, already strong in the county.

About the players

The executive: David Petr
President and CEO, Montgomery County Economic Development Corp.
Age: 44
Education: Bachelor’s in advertising, University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign; master’s in advertising, University of Texas at Austin
Past jobs: President and CEO, Central Florida Development Council; Executive director, Winter Haven Economic Development Council (in Winter Haven, Florida)
Residence: Potomac (previously Bethesda)
Family: Significant other, Jennifer; two sons and two daughters
First job: Stockboy for a corner store pharmacy in Lansing, Illinois

The board

MCEDC is led by a board of 13 mostly private sector directors, chaired by Bob Buchanan of regional advocacy group The 2030 Group, and vice-chaired by Robby Brewer of Bethesda law firm Lerch, Early & Brewer Chtd. Three directors are county employees. One represents WorkSource Montgomery Inc.

Chairman: Bob Buchanan, president, The 2030 Group

At MCEDC’s Jan. 9 meeting, Buchanan spoke to the board about the importance of branding the region to counteract the “drain the swamp” image being bandied about on Capitol Hill. He also voiced concern about increasingly vacant office space, apparent when driving around the county. Buchanan encouraged board members to “engage individually as they see fit on issues facing the county” in relation to politics. Earlier, in October, Buchanan requested the board support additional public-private groups, including one promoting the cybersecurity industry and another for small business.

Vice chairman: Robby Brewer, principal, Lerch, Early & Brewer Chtd.

Secretary: Ola Sage, CEO, e-Management and CyberRx

Treasurer: Sanjay Rai, senior vice president for academic affairs, Montgomery College

Other members:

MoCo’s compatriots

Montgomery is hardly the first to try the public-private partnership route in our region. The most common approach is to have a private sector board, as MDEDC does. These groups have a similar structure.

  • Prince George’s County Economic Development Corp.
  • Arlington Economic Development
  • Fairfax County Economic Development Authority
  • Washington, D.C. Economic Partnership
  • Alexandria Economic Development Partnership
  • Rockville Economic Development Inc.
  • Southeast Fairfax Development Corp.

About Montgomery County

Total populations(2015)

  • Fairfax: 1,142,234
  • Montgomery: 1,040,116
  • Prince George’s: 909,535
  • District: 672,228
  • Prince William: 451,721
  • Loudoun: 375,629
  • Arlington: 229,164
  • Alexandria: 153,511

Gender(2015)

  • Male: 48.2%
  • Female: 51.8%

Ethnic makeup*(2015)

  • White: 54%
  • Other: 28%
  • Black: 18%
  • Asian: 15%

*Percentage adds up to more than 100 percent because people who are two or more races are also included.

Mean commuting time(2015)

  • 34.3 minutes

Carolyn M. Proctor compiles the weekly Lists and writes about the List topics. She also oversees production of the Book of Lists.


Printed with permission of The Washington Business Journal