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Montgomery County at a Crossroads

Washington DC
Montgomery County at a Crossroads

Montgomery County has a lot going for it, from a robust life sciences and government presence to an ever-growing list of new mixed-use developments. But as we learned this morning at our MoCo Economic & Real Estate Forecast event, there's still plenty of work to be done.

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550 at the Bethesda North Marriott heard Foulger Pratt managing principal Bryant Foulger caution that the county may be falling behind on economic development, as dynamic job growth has been slow and neighboring jurisdictions offer a more efficient cost of doing business. And Bryant adds that county politicos are reactive instead of proactive on issues like transportation, noting that Virginia's Silver Line will deliver later this year, while Maryland's Purple Line remains a topic of debate.

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County Department of General Services official Greg Ossont says it's not all doom and gloom. With sound master planning to play off the area's education and biotech/life sciences strengths, as well as a good working relationship with the private sector, opportunities to help Montgomery grow are there for the taking. Greg points out the county's efforts to dispose of excess property in White Oak and Shady Grove as proof that the county is getting active.

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Johns Hopkins Health System SVP Brian Gragnolati (with moderator Ellen Bogage of Chesapeake Public Strategies) likens the county to a great house without a kitchen: When economic times are great, the residents are able to eat out (think positive office absorption, job growth), but when things get tough, there's no place to cook. Brian says life sciences--already a major tenet of the county's success--present a huge opportunity for more growth, although MoCo must work to monetize the research that takes place here.

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Montgomery Business Development Corp prez Holly Sears (with EagleBank's Tony Marquez), a Nashville transplant, comes to town with a fresh perspective and says, "The county doesn't realize how great it is." But she adds that real change proves tough economically since "politics are entrenched" in every business decision in MoCo, which will need to adjust to take advantage of opportunities. Tony says taxes area common reason many businesses seek out of Maryland, but merely lowering themisn't the solution: "We can't tax our way out of issues."

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Federal Realty's Chris Weilminster (with Akridge's Greg Tomasso) says that the TODs springing up in the county (like his firm's Pike and Rose project) must be well thought out from the ground up, noting that "if the foundation is right, everything else follows." Greg adds that future development should take lessons from projects in the pipeline that succeed and that there are"endless opportunities for smart growth in Montgomery County."

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Great to see all of you this morning--stay tuned for more event coverage Monday.