What's Happening in Montgomery County? Jobs and the Economy

Education Event Highlights Jobs and the EconomyBy Bonnie Wicklund | Click Here to View Dr. Jones' Slide Presentation Biotechnology and the Montgomery County Economy Presentation

David Petr, Executive Director of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation (MCEDC), and Dr. Collins Jones, Biotechnology Program Coordinator at Montgomery College spoke to an evening crowd at Rockville Public Library on January 23rd. Almost 20 candidates running in various Democratic primaries this spring attended, indicating the high interest in the topic.  This is the second of three planned events on new directions for Montgomery County organized by WDC's Education Committee, co-chaired by Brenda Wolff and Diana Conway.

MCEDC is a public/private partnership created to encourage and support business growth, increase jobs, and expand the tax base in our county. Petr structured his remarks around three goals:  retaining existing companies; helping companies to grow their business; and attracting new companies. MCEDC is now working on some 60 projects, and the recent announcement that Montgomery County has made the short list of possible sites for Amazon's new center was good news.  The MCEDC website is https://thinkmoco.com.

In the past, Montgomery County has not excelled at promoting itself as business friendly, Petr asserted. He and his staff of 18 are trying various tactics to change that.  MCEDC has reached out to 1000 existing companies, trying to determine what they need to succeed, and enlisting their help in telling "the great story that hasn't been told." One project is "MoCo 365," a series of one-minute videos airing one each day-all kinds of people at every level of business telling what they love about Montgomery County. Readers can view these videos at moco365.com.

Attracting new capital investment and diversifying the kinds of companies is also a focus of Petr's.  Besides biotech, which has been important for many years in Montgomery County, the hospitality and cybersecurity sectors are strong.  He added that there is a regional effort to attract up-and-coming robotics companies.  While our educated and highly diverse population is a selling point, challenges for attracting new businesses include transportation and the lack of affordable housing.

Dr. Jones from Montgomery College explained that biotech means simply using living organisms to make useful products, including vaccines, diagnostics, cell therapy, monoclonal antibodies, gene therapy, and bio printing. He emphasized that the time to market in this industry is not quick; from concept to product can take from 10-15 years, and can cost from $500 million to $2.5 billion.  Right now there are about 300 biotech companies in our county, employing some 15,000 workers.  The county is known for its incubator companies, reliant on investor capital, each employing only a few employees, and Dr Jones said that he supports the MCEDC goal of helping these small companies develop to the mature, revenue-producing stage.  But, crucially, there are also 600 local job openings in the field, and the industry is having a hard time finding qualified workers.  

Montgomery College has a new bio-science building with state-of-the-art labs for students, start-ups can also use the equipment for a fee.  The curriculum for the biotech program has been developed with input from the industry, and Dr. Jones helps his students land positions in the industry and in academia.  

 

When asked whether MCPS students enter Montgomery College academically prepared for higher education, Dr. Jones was critical.  Students need to be held accountable, he said; they often lack basic math skills, and seem unwilling to focus, work hard, and meet deadlines.

 

Both presenters took many questions, and inevitably the subject of Amazon' s possible move into the county came up.  MCEDC supports the bid to attract the retailing giant, Petr said, citing the long-term boost to tax revenue, lots of new jobs, and the diversification factor.  Jones said simply that there are pros and cons.