Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Council Approves Creation of Business Development Corporation

We unanimously approved Bill 28-10 that establishes a Business Development Corporation (BDC) that could provide the County with strategic planning and advice, legislative and regulatory advocacy and evaluation of County government’s economic development performance. The group also can join the County Executive and Department of Economic Development in attempting to persuade specific businesses to move to or stay in the County. I am proud to have sponsored this bill which evolved from my pledge to make economic development the top priority during my term as Council President.

The nation, and the Washington region, are currently in an economic era unprecedented in our lifetimes. Throughout this downturn, Montgomery County has remained one of the nation’s economic engines, and we have to send out the word that we are open for business. It is one thing for government to send that message, but when we team with some of the nation’s, and the world’s, top companies to roll out the welcome mat, it becomes quite an inspiring invitation. That is what we are creating with the Business Development Corporation.

The redrafted bill authorizes the Council to designate a quasi-public, nonprofit corporation that is not an instrumentality of the County to act as the County’s local management board.

The designated corporation’s board of directors, which will not be appointed by the County, will be made up of 11 voting members, including a Chamber of Commerce representative, a small business owner, an owner or manager of a medium sized business and up to eight senior managers of major companies in the County. The board also will include, as non-voting ex-officio members, the director of the Department of Economic Development, the superintendent of Montgomery County Public Schools, the president of Montgomery College and either the Planning Board chair or the planning director.

Business leaders themselves will create a proposed BDC that follows the provisions of Bill 28-10. It is conceivable that more than one BDC will be organized. If that occurs, the County Council will select one BDC.

The redrafted bill also provided that members of the board will not be County officials or employees and will not be subject to the County’s Ethics Law. The corporation’s bylaws will regulate conflicts of interest by board members and staff. The board’s meetings will be required to comply with the state Open Meetings Law. This approach is similar to that of the Bethesda Urban District Corporation.

Through the BDC, we are going to be paying attention to the business community on how to handle important issues. I am not going to tell this group what to do. I am going to listen to what it recommends.

The bill received strong support from business leaders who pledged to be involved in the Business Development Corporation to attract businesses of various interests and sizes to join them in Montgomery County.

“There are reasons of many kinds that Montgomery County is a premiere place for major corporations to locate,” said Senior Vice President of Government Affairs Debbie Marriott Harrison of Marriott International, whose international headquarters is located in Bethesda. “We are all stronger when we have more businesses nearby. We are pledging our support of the BDC because the County government and the private businesses located in this County are in position to be a powerful team in developing business in Montgomery. Like the other major businesses committed to the goals of the BDC, we are here to help.”

Discovery Communications, whose headquarters is in Silver Spring, also has pledged its support to the BDC.

“Discovery’s impact as the cornerstone of Silver Spring’s revitalization, along with the ongoing efforts of the nearly 2,000 employees working and living in the County to give back to the local community, are examples of the vital role that large employers can play in building vibrant and diverse communities and ensuring a healthy and growing economy for Montgomery County,” said Joe LaSala, general counsel for Discovery Communications. “Discovery applauds the efforts of Montgomery County Council President Nancy Floreen in introducing this bill to develop a vision for the County’s economic future and to ensure that we have a business-friendly environment that can attract industry leaders to Montgomery County.”

I hope the corporation will be officially designated before the start of the next state legislative session that begins in December. The group is expected to issue its first report within a year.

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