Consider: The Fairfax County Economic Development Authority has
35 full-time employees, a $7.3 million
annual budget and 21,000 square feet of
offices in Tysons Corner, as well as seven
other offices in cities around the world—
from Boston to Bangalore. It was started
50 years ago to promote Fairfax as a
good place to do business. Its top official
has held the job for about 30 years.
Across the river, its counterpart,
the Montgomery Business Development Corp., is a virtual startup, with
a small, second-story rear office in
an 1896 building by the old Rockville
train station, three full-time employees
and a $540,000 budget. It was created
by the county council in July 2010, but
its director wasn’t hired until November 2012. Its initial mission is to gather
and disseminate data and to meet with
county businesses. Baby steps.
The Montgomery Business Development Corp. came about in response
to what the council perceived to be the
county government’s lack of aggressiveness in pursuit of business. It coexists,
somewhat uneasily, with the governmental Department of Economic Development, whose director, Steve Silverman, acknowledges that Fairfax County
is “way ahead of us in marketing money.”
But Montgomery County’s slogan,
reflecting the earnestness of its leaders,
might well be: We are trying harder to
try harder. The Montgomery County
Chamber of Commerce has another
slogan. “We are what is next,” appears
in capital letters on its 2014 legislative
agenda handout. Which is to say, whatever our record, the future is here.
The chamber boasts in its marketing
materials that Montgomery is No. 2 in
the country for small businesses contracting with the federal government.
Not stated, but acknowledged in an
interview, is that Fairfax is No. 1.
Though other jurisdictions might
brag about a No. 2 national ranking, the
constant comparison to Fairfax rankles
local politicians. County Executive Ike
Leggett says the perception that Mont-
gomery County is inhospitable to busi-
nesses persists, even though he doesn’t
believe it to be true. “You have to treat it
as reality,” Leggett says. “Eventually, the
reality will catch up with the facts, but
you can’t deny there is the perception.”
The perception—fair or not—was a
major theme during the spring’s pri-
mary contest for county executive, when
challenger Doug Duncan, the former
three-term county executive, based his
unsuccessful comeback bid largely on
his pro-business record. For whatever
reason, the issue did not resonate with
residents, few of whom even bothered to
vote in June’s Democratic Party primary,
when a victory would be tantamount to
election in heavily Democratic Mont-
But it’s not just about marquee corporations. It’s about jobs, and who’s ahead
depends on which numbers you use.
According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor
Statistics (BLS), which counts only the
employed, Fairfax added 36,795 jobs
from January 2010 to December 2013,
while Montgomery added 17,661 over
the same period. But using figures from
EMSI, a nationally-recognized data service that also includes the self-employed,
Montgomery added 32,530 new jobs,
Fairfax 29,837 over that same time
frame. Naturally, Montgomery officials
prefer to cite EMSI. “Based on our analysis,” Leggett boasts, “we are probably
doing better than anyone in the region.”
It’s also about culture. “So many of
our people won’t say they are anti-business, but they don’t view themselves like
most of the nation does as involved in
the free enterprise system,” says Blair
Lee, chairman of the Silver Spring-based
Lee Development Group and a longtime
observer of county politics.
“Look at the county council,” he says.
“How many come out of the private sector? They reflect the electorate. They are
not pro-business. We live in a county
largely oblivious to the free enterprise
capitalistic system. The people who’ve
come to live in Montgomery County are
largely here because of the federal government. That’s why you can’t get elected
here running against big government.
We are big government.”
In many ways, the two jurisdictions are remarkably similar. According
to the U.S. Census Bureau, Montgomery
bad for business?
MONTGOMERY COUNTY IS
COMING LATE TO THE PARTY.
THE CHAMBER BOASTS IN ITS MARKETING MATERIALS
THAT MONTGOMERY IS NO. 2 IN THE COUNTRY FOR
SMALL BUSINESSES CONTRACTING WITH THE FEDERAL
GOVERNMENT. NOT STATED, BUT ACKNOWLEDGED IN
AN INTERVIEW, IS THAT FAIRFAX IS NO. 1.
Fueling this perception are decisions by high-profile corporations such
as Northrop Grumman and Hilton to
move their headquarters from California to the region, but to Fairfax rather
than Montgomery. Less publicized are
decisions by big names such as Choice
Hotels International to stay here, moving its corporate offices from Silver
Spring to Rockville.