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County Adding President To Business Development Group

By Aaron Kraut

Monday - 11/19/2012, 3:10pm  ET

A Montgomery County-created nonprofit charged with retaining and attracting businesses has its first ever president, a move officials hope can kickstart a business development effort some say is lagging.

The Council created the quasi-public Montgomery Business Development Corporation as a board of local business leaders in 2010, but last week announced the hiring of Holly Sears as its full-time president.

Money for that position was added to the program recently, in the same period of time multiple reports chronicled the stark contrasts between job growth in Montgomery and neighboring Fairfax County, long viewed as a competitor for new businesses.

In March, the Washington Business Journal reported Fairfax spent around $7 million in business development in the last year and saw 8,765 new jobs. In that same period, Montgomery County spent $6.25 million and saw 556 new jobs.

Sears, who will start after the Thanksgiving holiday, previously served as the Vice President of Economic Development for the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce, near Nashville, Tenn.

A county press release announcing the hiring said Sears recruited and negotiated more than $6 billion in capital investments there in her seven-year tenure.

The MBDC’s website still lists retired schools Superintendent Jerry Weast and departed Planning Department Director Rollin Stanley as non-voting members. There are no projects or resources listed on the site.

Meanwhile, Fairfax County, which has a county-funded but more independent Fairfax County Economic Development Authority, has attempted to expand its reach. The FCEDA has offices in Los Angeles, Bangalore, London, Munich, Seoul and Tel Aviv.

Montgomery officials have said international offices are not practical financially and that state economic development offices can do the job.

Today, County Council President Roger Berliner (D-Bethesda-Potomac) declined to say the county was lagging its neighbors in attracting the type of large corporations that is spurring development in Fairfax.

Bethesda is home to a number of major companies (including Lockheed Martin and Marriot) and fast-growing start-ups.

“We need to do more and we need the business community’s guidance,” Berliner said. “One of the models that Fairfax uses is to have an independent development corporation. We don’t. The MBDC is sort of a hybrid approach. We retain our authority but we have the advice and counsel of business leaders. So we’re trying to have, if you will, the best of both worlds and hopefully with this new president we’ll achieve that.”

Flickr photo by kgunnar