The Future of Montgomery County’s Economy

Today, I am pleased to present a guest blog by Kevin Kamenetz.

Montgomery County’s role as an economic engine for Maryland is in danger. The recent Sage Consulting report indicates that the county’s private sector employment has declined, job growth has all but stopped, and a precipitous decline in the number of new businesses created in the county suggests that the worst may yet to come.

Despite these challenges, it is critical to acknowledge, as others have, that Montgomery County remains a strongly managed jurisdiction that has been able to maintain a triple-A bond rating from all three major rating agencies. And according to state and federal averages, the unemployment rate in Montgomery remains lower than both the state and federal data. These figures are important indicators of general economic health, but the warning signs presented by this new report cannot be ignored.

We must work together to build upon the county’s strong foundation, and reframe Maryland’s role in economic development, if we are serious about reversing such troubling trends.

Montgomery County has already accomplished so much with Transit Oriented Development (TOD) and communities with multi-model transportation options for its residents. As the Baltimore County Executive, I have long-admired Montgomery County’s progress here, and have attempted to emulate much of that success, attracting more than $5 billion in private investment and developing the Baltimore region’s first TODs. We also created Greenleigh, a Traditional Neighborhood Design project patterned after Kentlands. And my successful effort to lure $1 billion in private investment in downtown Towson caused one outlet to suggest I have “Bethesda envy.” In many ways I do.

What I have recognized, and what Montgomery County already knows, is the value of promoting projects like these will get residents out of their cars and into town centers for ease and convenience. This is how we will rebuild our older shopping centers and strip malls into the vibrant places where people want to work and live.

Much like Montgomery County, Baltimore County has also been able achieve the coveted “triple AAA” bond rating. In fact, we are two of only 46 counties across the country to do so.

Moreover, we have also dealt with many of the same issues that Montgomery County now faces. When confronted with an aging population, stagnant job growth, and the threat of private sector migration, we took a unique approach. We doubled-down on our own assets to attract new jobs, while focusing on employer needs to build a job-ready workforce.

Following the end of a century of steelmaking, I led the largest industrial redevelopment on the East Coast at Tradepoint Atlantic, which is now attracting “millennial-bait” companies such as Under Armour, Fed Ex and Amazon, as well as other port-related activity. Today, there are more people working at Sparrows Point than when the former Bethlehem Steel mill closed in 2012. These businesses are projected to add 17,000 new jobs when the global logistics hub is fully developed in the next five years.

Meanwhile, we opened a two-way dialogue with our existing employers and launched Job Connector, an innovative $2.5 million program that partners with companies, labor trades, schools and colleges to build a job-ready workforce. This employer-driven supply-and-demand strategy not only helps us keep our unemployment rate low, but it gives us a competitive advantage to retain key employers — and jobs they create — here in the state.

Together these approaches to economic development are transforming job prospects and economic opportunity for the entire region.

This progress has been bolstered by efforts to strengthen the foundation of any economy: a thriving educational system. Through Baltimore County’s unprecedented $1.3 billion program to build or rebuild 90 schools, as well as introduction of a Community College Promise program that will offer a debt-free education to qualified students, we are making the long-term investments to prepare a new generation for a 21st century workforce.

The kicker? We have accomplished all of this without ever once raising the property tax or income tax rates during my 8 years and Executive and 16 years as Councilman. In short, we’ve shown that we can be economically bold, while also being fiscally prudent.

Every one of Maryland’s 24 jurisdictions — including Montgomery and Baltimore Counties, and especially the independent jurisdiction of Baltimore City, face new and evolving challenges. Montgomery County cannot and should not be expected to face these challenges alone.  That is why Valerie Ervin and I want to work together as your next Governor and Lt. Governor to build upon these successes for the entire state of Maryland.

Together we can ensure that Montgomery County remains one of our state’s key economic drivers for generations to come.

Kevin Kamenetz is the Baltimore County Executive and a Democratic candidate for governor.