A Growing Economy: Number of New Businesses

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. 

Indicator 1: Number of Net New Businesses

About the Indicator: Montgomery County is home to thousands of companies, from small family-owned businesses to more than 115 corporate headquarters with 100 or more employees, including three Fortune 500 corporations. Being able to successfully open and run a business is a sign of economic health and speaks to factors ranging from the ease of regulatory processes to the ability to source and hire the right talent. Historically the County could derive stability from the federal government presence, but it is vital to diversify through the attraction and growth of new businesses. The County has long been known as a fantastic place to live, it can also become known as a great place to work.

The Story Behind the Curve

Positive Factors
  1. Montgomery County boasts a variety of factors that naturally appeal to businesses looking to start or expand, including a strong sense of security that offers stability they need, access to capital and loans through a variety of institutions, a highly educated population that offers the talent they seek and a good transit system to bring them to and from work.
  2. Our incredible diversity and welcoming attitude towards immigrants bring new capacities and ideas from around the world, plus a spirit of entrepreneurship and innovation that invites new opportunities and possibilities for success.
  3.  The County is currently exceeding its goal for procuring goods and services from MFD-owned companies (Minority, Female, Disabled) – the overall benchmark is 20%, FY18 actual was 23.5%. 

Explore the County's Business Landscape
Montgomery County  Economic Development Corporation's datastory helps to visualize the data behind our thriving business ecosystem through maps and sophisticated GIS technology.
Negative Factors
  1. Montgomery County is an expensive place to do business. The costs of purchasing or renting space, parking, equipment, taxes, competing for talent in a tight labor market and other needs add up quickly, especially for small businesses.
  2.  Regulations that must be adhered to can be burdensome and zoning restrictions can limit potential location opportunities. Businesses complain that is it difficult to work with County Government, citing unfriendly permitting and regulatory processes, a lack of clear and consistent guidance for understanding and navigating all the business apparatuses (MCEDC, Workforce Montgomery, Small Business Navigator, etc.), no emphasis on timeliness and transparency, and a general sense that the County’s business environment is not cohesive, solution-oriented or welcoming enough to people who want to set up shop here.
  3.  Minority residents feel disadvantaged when it comes to accessing the necessary capital or loans needed to start or grow a business. Even if a minority businessperson can overcome a lender’s stringent requirements - which already stack the deck against them - the resulting loan may come with unreasonably onerous terms. Minority businesspeople also report a lack of equity or equity that is unevenly applied across the County; there is a common sentiment that there is a preference for existing businesses (sentiment shared by many), a preference for specific minorities to be in specific industries; and that equity varies by location within the County, including a lack of focus on impoverished areas.

Recommended Options/Strategies

Low Cost / No Cost Solutions
  1. Create a “culture of yes” within County Government that values our businesses and has empathy for our customers that must comply with our rules and processes, and goes out of its way to assist them. This new culture promotes opportunity and values innovation and entrepreneurship inside (to be reflected in department mission statements) and outside of government. Create service level agreements to increase accountability and set expectations among County employees and our business customers.
  2. Develop a County “identity” around a specific industry or sector or set of related sectors that demonstrates and attracts our best qualities of, and offerings to, the business community.
  3. Articulate this culture, vision and identity and our investment in them often and from the very top of the organization in order to change the anti-business perception of the County Executive and the County-at-large.
  4. Streamline and clarify all the resources and processes related to doing business with the County. Eliminate any redundancies that exist across resources (e.g. MCEDC versus the Small Business Navigator). Everyone from small business to major corporations should know where they can go for correct and consistent answers, and be made aware of any free resources provided by the County. Consider different approaches such as consolidating resources versus separating points of contact by geography, sector, County department, etc. and develop more and more-specific knowledge base articles (KBAs) in MC311 for business-related activities/processes.
  5. To promote the growth of small businesses, put small business advisors and procurement specialists in the Regional Service Centers (RSCs), create a small business advisory council, and actively support the local economy by being inclusive economy and urging residents and businesses to buy and hire local.
  6. Leverage regional projects (Purple Line, Amazon HQ2) to support business development and retention here.
  7. Improve, expand and/or incentivize County partnerships with non-profits, other jurisdictions, banks and credit unions (to increase service to immigrants and minorities), and the private sector (e.g. mentorships)
  8. Provide more and better marketing for the County and our existing businesses of all sizes, emphasizing the value proposition of Montgomery County.
  9. Make the connection between professional success and our schools, investing in workforce development and addressing the achievement gap.
  10. Establish and support innovation through County incubators by identifying currently empty space that could house them and connect them to Montgomery College and mentoring programs.
  11. Support and leverage the value of our minority- and immigrant-owned businesses by connecting them to larger companies in the name of business expansion and new markets (other countries coming to Montgomery County).
  12. Inclusion-based economic development: Differentiate and customize the approach towards minority-owned businesses versus other small businesses and place a greater emphasis on encouraging and supporting women-owned businesses. Any under-represented group should get additional points in the procurement process

High Cost Solutions
  1. Assist small businesses that might otherwise fail due to rising costs through refunds when revenue is lost as a result of County construction projects (Purple Line), small business tax credits based on job creation and other tax policy changes, and increased access to capital and the County’s open/vacant spaces.