Dear Mr. County Executive, Council Members, and Planning Board Members:
I hate sounding like a broken record, but everything I warned about last year and in 2009 is inexorably unfolding. Just check out the latest cover story in the March 6 “Washington Business Journal” by two knowledgeable reporters titled “MoCo’s Marriott Problem”—Bechtel is gone and Marriott is going. And this is by no means the end of it. Also notice, just as I warned, the sidebar piece on all the many alternative locations where Marriott is most likely to land—every single one is in DC (which has one-tenth the land area Montgomery County has) and Virginia. Every. Single. One.
Montgomery County has got to grasp, finally and fully, how it is truly viewed by the business and economic worlds out there. The County must do something dramatic, and soon, to change that image decades in the making. Our very economic viability is at stake right now, today, at this very moment.
Let’s be candid enough to look at our systemic faults:
1) We have not one but two transportation tests for new development; no other jurisdiction does that. And the tests are so complex and mind-boggling that no one but the three people who invented them can understand them, meaning they pose not only a double hurdle but a dangerous one. Imagine how a company located here and looking to expand somewhere in the region eyes that peculiar, unique hurdle.
2) We effectively have two County planning/permitting agencies, two environmental agencies, two transportation agencies, all too often grappling with each other. Guess who invariably gets ensnared in the middle of all that time-consuming, highly risky bureaucratic grappling? Imagine how a business person from, say, Seattle looking to land in the DC region views this arthritic process when stepping into the shoes of a potential land use applicant.
3) We don’t have a County economic development corp. run by people who, in their bones, get economic development, in which achievement metrics are required in order to be suitably compensated, but, rather, an economic development department run by well paid, well meaning people more experienced in the ways of politics. Imagine how a corporation from overseas being wooed by DC-area jurisdictions interacts with these two competing ways of dealing and communicating.
4) We have an entrenched bureaucracy in the County and MNCPPC that is rewarded more easily for saying “no” than for saying “yes.” Imagine how a local firm used to this day-to-day culture is liberated when it decides to inquire about maybe moving to a neighboring jurisdiction.
Taken together, these systemic faults are a cumulative anchor weighing upon our mutual necks that every jurisdiction in the region knows well and quietly appreciates.
So what is the solution? Given our history and reputation (whether earned or not as to any particular point is irrelevant because the overarching perception of being a general pain in the neck is real and therefore grave), we can no longer just do the usual pointless tinkering while the ship of state remains on its unwavering course to the ultimate withering of the tax base and thus our social order.
Accordingly, we must have the vision and gumption to scrap the two transportation tests for one, and make the one understandable. To bring the functions of MNCPPC under the County government and its 10 elected representatives. To create an economic development corp. and dissolve the department of economic development. To reward employees and management for saying “yes” when a proposal meets the laws and regulations or offers another creative way of advancing community building and economic viability.
We either dither or change. There is no other option if we wish to remain what we once clearly were—creative and quick, competitive and wise, always looking out for the big picture and the long view. In short, on top and for good reasons.