November 16, 2015

Montgomery’s Department of Economic Development: Still in Business, Still on Business

Change is in the air (and on the ground) as developments continue in County Executive Ike Leggett’s creation of new, private 501(C)3 organizations which will manage the County’s economic development and workforce services.

Meanwhile, the Department of Economic Development is continuing its work on projects to expand Montgomery County’s business base.

Highlights include:
  • Technology Transfer. The annual Innovation2Commercialization Conference (now in its 4th year) took place November 3 at the Universities at Shady Grove. This year we joined with the Mid-Atlantic Federal Laboratory Consortium (FLC) annual meeting for two days packed with exciting panels, presentations and networking. Acknowledgements to Fizie Haleem for her hard work in organizing and chairing the conference. Because of her efforts, DED won the State and Local Economic Development Award from the Mid-Atlantic FLC. 
  • STEM Boot Camp. For the 2nd time our Workforce group offered a 5-week program in partnership with Montgomery College to introduce un- and under-employed County residents to opportunities in the STEM field. This session’s cohort was 9 strong, up from five in the first cohort. The participants work on their math skills, learn about careers in STEM, hear from employers, earn a customer service certification, and develop their path to STEM careers. Thanks to Barbara Kaufmann and her team for starting this innovative program.
  • Entrepreneurship. Relevant Health is Montgomery County’s first accelerator. It is under the auspices of BioHealthInnovation (BHI) and is managed by Product Savvy. The focus is Health IT. There were 75 applications from around the world. The final cohort for the 5-month program includes CEO’s of 7 companies, some regional, a few national, and one international. The program began this week; the formal ribbon-cutting on their cool space in the Rockville Innovation Center is Thursday, 11/12. Thanks to John Korpela for managing the space transformation and to Valerie Fremont and John for participating in the vetting of the applicants. 
  • Marketing. The final round of MOVE advertisements appeared in Business Journal markets up and down the east coast (Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, DC and Research Triangle Park). This marketing effort was funded jointly by the Montgomery Business Development Corporation and DED. Through the MOVE program, which is one of the County Executive’s 2015 economic development initiatives, we have attracted 26 new businesses to Montgomery County that collectively absorbed 103,176 square feet of office spaces, and added 187 jobs with a projection of another 343 new jobs over the next three years. The space filled to date is roughly the equivalent of the Executive Office Building!
  • Business Attraction and Expansion. We are working with 2 attraction and 4 expansion projects that can add several new properties and provide upwards of a few thousand new job opportunities for residents. While very exciting, each project requires unprecedented coordination and support from the State, County, and the local jurisdiction. Decisions on these 6 projects are expected to be made by mid-2016.
  • Redevelopment Assistance. Plans to deliver a very different variety and level of technical services to the Wheaton area are well underway. The Wheaton Innovation Center has been the mainstay of the county’s strategy in helping to develop the MFD (Minority, Female, and Disabled), professional services sector so prominent in that area. It can only reach a small number of businesses and given that the Wheaton redevelopment is about to begin, we decided to put “feet on the street” rather than “bodies in seats” in order to reach a much larger population. We tapped organizations that are already working with the local community and that have the capacity to deliver technical services (marketing, inventory control, financial accountability, etc.) especially to Wheaton’s Spanish-speaking small business population. The response has been extremely heartening and we are in the final stages of negotiating a consortium agreement with the Latino Economic Development Corporation, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Montgomery County, the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Greater Washington and the Small Business Development Center to deliver intensive technical services to Wheaton redevelopment area businesses. Our expectation is that this model will expand to serve the larger downcounty area as it is refined. 
  • Mentoring. This week the founding mentors for the Technology Council of Maryland Venture Mentoring Service (VMS) spent a day honing their team mentoring skills that are at the core of this very exciting program used in 50 communities around the globe. The VMS program was started at MIT 15 years ago and has produced stunning outcomes in communities that have adopted it. We have recruited 15 founding mentors who include serial technology entrepreneurs, angel and venture capitalists, seasoned professional services providers, and government contracting experts to work with our 8 companies during this first pilot phase with scale-up expected in FY17. DED provided the training and a sponsorship to fund the initiation of the program.
  • 1776. The partnership agreement between 1776, DC’s incredible co-working/accelerator space, and Montgomery County is live. This gives us the opportunity to work with 1776’s expanded resources, touch their companies, and establish the county as a place for exciting, innovative beta test sites in the government services space. In return, 1776 will host several events in the county, provide access to their blogs and electronic newsletters for our content and recognize us as their first regional partner. Our thanks to Councilmember Riemer for spearheading this effort. 
  • Open Office Hours. We continue to offer 1-on-1 sessions to local businesses through appointments at a variety of the County’s 23 shared executive office spaces (Regis, Intelligent Office, Creative Colony, etc.). Hats off to Judy Stephenson for continuing and nurturing this popular program.
  • Life Sciences Impact Grants. The 6-month reports are all in from the initial round of grants that were awarded in the first quarter of 2015 to 8 companies and we are evaluating the process and initial results to determine if any changes are warranted. 
  • Special Projects. We kicked off the Office Market Working Group, a private sector led committee tasked by the County Executive with developing recommendations on ways to address the growing vacancy in the County’s commercial space.
  • Transition. The Boards of the new economic development and workforce organizations are approved and have begun working as Department of Economic Development staff continue essential services, move ahead on existing initiatives, and focus their efforts on providing a smooth transition. 
In short, Montgomery’s Department of Economic Development is open for business and will keep on working right through to the transition. Contact Sally Sternbach, Acting Director of the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development at 240-777-2005.