A Growing Economy:       Family Sustaining Jobs

Montgomery County’s high wealth and low unemployment rate mask economic disparities as well as other warning signs, such as slow business growth and problems with office vacancies.  Maintaining and improving our quality of life depends on a strong local economy.  We need to have a business-friendly attitude and incubate the next generation of job creators.  We will start by focusing on these three measures:
Indicator 2: Family Sustaining Jobs [this measure is under construction]
About the Indicator: It is well known that Montgomery County has both a high median household income and low poverty rate, relative to the rest of the United States. These statistical points of pride can mask the hardships faced every day by our residents who struggle to make ends meet. The County is indeed a costly place to live and raise a family – the affordability of necessities such as housing and child care are an acute challenge for some residents – but growing an economy that offers opportunities to all residents can help those on the lower rungs of the economic ladder.

The Story Behind the Curve

Positive Factors
  1. The County has been implementing a Smart Growth strategy for many years and boasts both existing high-skill jobs and many good resources for workforce training that appeal to and serve our highly entrepreneurial workforce.
  2. The strong presence of an “alternative night economy” attracts people from neighboring jurisdictions to our many immigrant-specific establishments open at night across the County.
  3. Amazon HQ2’s new location in Arlington, VA may create economic opportunities here, such as fostering small business tech start-ups in the County.
Negative Factors
  1. There is no coordinated strategy that connects poverty alleviation to economic development, including with our state and federal counterparts; currently services for those most in need only manage the symptoms, with existing resources distributed inequitably. The downside of our investment in Smart Growth has resulted in a degradation of affordable communities.
  2. Montgomery County is largely a service economy, and existing low-skill workers encounter both a lack of trade jobs and limited opportunities to learn trades that offer higher-wages, while high school students are not directed towards high-skill majors or high-paying lower-skill trade jobs for those who will not go to college.
  3. Small businesses are challenged by increasing overhead and an environment that fails to foster the types of small businesses that accompany and complement large ones. These large anchor businesses are not hiring or buying locally. All businesses are facing competition with our neighboring jurisdictions on salaries/wages, resulting in a “race to the bottom.”
Nearly all demographic groups could use increased or better coordinated assistance, and/or businesses groups or associations advocating on their behalf: seniors need improved workforce development/retraining, minorities and entrepreneurs need more recognition and opportunity, and highly-skilled workers need help connecting to the types of jobs for which they are trained

Recommended Options/Strategies

Low Cost / No Cost Solutions
  1. Establish a Montgomery County business “identity” (existing key industries and products) and better market them and jobs that exist here, especially the high-skill jobs.
  2. Improve, expand, and incentivize education tied to professional success, from STEAM classes for younger students to mentorships for older students to better integration with universities in the region to support a path from MCPS to high-skill job preparation (including green jobs) at the college level, and encourage anyone in the County who wants to go into the IT field to attend Montgomery College’s subsidized programs. For the trades, partner with the Trade Unions to train residents in apprenticeships.
  3. Take a stronger stance to protect and advocate for the County’s immigrant population to boost their chances of achieving financial success and security (e.g. actively push to make County Green Card holders U.S. citizens) with a focus on East County, Gaithersburg, and Germantown.
  4. Support budding entrepreneurs with new programs such as an incubator where they can work from home (while watching their children) and can make products to be sold through the incubator. Establish partnerships with medium and large businesses to create fellowships (even unpaid) to help mothers who left the labor force reintegrate back into the job market.
  5. Encourage joint ventures between smaller businesses to better compete for contract competition and incentivize mentoring to educate small businesses on our procurement process.
High Cost Solutions
  1. Financially support education through guaranteed post-secondary education for all county residents, provide free pre-school and affordable child care, and subsidize technical certifications.
  2. Increase County subsidies for local business owners and workers through: the provision of liability insurance for people wanting to start a small business; the County retirement plan providing low-cost mortgages; a County savings program (401k match); the creation of a County debt relief program (similar to the federal government); making RideOn a free service for all County residents; the expansion of the County’s Welcome Center to add more capacity.
  3. Create a high-level position in County Government that focuses on the intersections and policy solutions of poverty and economic development policy, race, equity, and education.
Potential partnerships and collaborations
MCPS (this stakeholder was absent from the Transition Team discussions)