Leggett Proposes New Structure for Economic Development in MoCo
“He thinks the work of attracting investment and jobs obviously is something public officials have to be involved in, but the machinery to do it is a little more flexible and easier to get wholehearted private sector buy-in to somthing they have a bigger roll in running,” said Patrick Lacefield, spokesman for the executive.
The change would require legislation, something Lacefield says the Executive expects to have to the table by fall. While Leggett has talked some about a change in the county’s economic development framework, Lacefield said he came to the conclusion in the last six or seven weeks that a traditional model isn’t the best option for the county’s economic and business needs.
Still uncertain are the details of how this new model would work.
Lacefield said the entity would include a board of directors that would have private and county leadership on it. Leggett is considering a model similiar to the Fairfax County Economic Development Authority. The FCEDA is an independent authority chartered by the Commonwealth of Virginia. A seven-member board of Fairfax County business leaders oversees the work of the authority. All funding for the FCEDA comes from the Fairfax County General Fund.
“He has been looking at various models and how to do economic development and he is open to changes that people have done in different places drafting legislation that would turn the Department of Economic Development into a non-governmental agency that would pursue economic development marketing and placement like what they have in Fairfax,” Lacefield said.
The county’s DED fiscal year 2016 proposed budget is $14.5 million and the staff includes 38 full-time employees and two-part time staff members.
Lacefield said there have been concerns from the MCGEO, the county employees’ union, about how the proposal would effect them.
“This is not ncesearily a criticsm of the current structure but we are in a situation now with the decline in federal spending we simply can’t take anything for granted,” Lacefield said. “In the past we felt the region was recession-proof; with the difficulty around federal investment, sequestration plus the rise of a lot of different segments in this country and abroad we need to be as creative as we can to be successful and find the right vehicle…take a fresh look.”
Laurie Boyer, executive director Rockville Economic Development Inc., a 501C-3 organization, said she thinks the proposed structure could make the county more “nimble” when it comes to luring and retaining business.
“I think it is probably a good idea for a county this size,” she told MyMCMedia. “I think that County Executive Leggett has gotten a lot of input from the private sector which would be helpful in determining the exact structure of the new entity.”
Taking the department from the traditional governmental structure could help release the organization from procurements and other restrictions of government agencies.
“The entity can be more quick to adapt to a changing environment and react to the demands of a marketplace more quickly than a government agency that has more steps
And, I think it sends a message to the business sector that the county wants to be more business friendly and is doing all it can to be supportive of the business sector,” Boyer said.
Gaithersburg’s Economic Development Director Tom Lonergan, said he is scheduled to hear more about the proposal on Friday when he meets with Leggett’s representatives on the issue.
“I am open-minded. I assume the County Executive sees advantages to pursuing this model,” he said.