With its location at the heart of the nation's federal district and close to Washington, D.C., Montgomery County offers numerous economic assets that distinguish it as a business hot spot, but its greatest advantage is its people. The county's population of more than 1 million includes some of the nation's most highly educated talent, from top scientists and researchers to innovators developing groundbreaking technologies of the future. More than 57 percent of adults over age 25 have a bachelor's degree or higher – a percentage far exceeding the national average – and many hold degrees in STEM fields. The region also has a high concentration of Ph.D.s. and post-doctoral researchers. “People who come here to research or work on a project fall in love with the area,” says Sally Sternbach, director of the Montgomery County Department of Economic Development. “It's a wonderful community to live in – and they stay because they are smart people.” Many of these highly educated graduates work for one of the 18 federal agencies located in Montgomery County, which include the Food and Drug Administration, the National Institutes of Health, and the Department of Energy. Not only do these institutions bring jobs and talent into the region, but they also contribute to the innovation economy driving Montgomery County's growth. “This gives us a world of opportunity that few places have, both for selling into these agencies to meet their needs, as well as for transferring technologies out of them and spinning off companies based on the work they are doing,” says Holly Sears Sullivan, director of the Montgomery County Business Development Center. Drawing Diverse Businesses Montgomery County has a diverse business dynamic, with more than 35,000 small businesses operating alongside more than 160 foreign-owned corporations, as well as Fortune 500 companies including Lockheed Martin, Discovery Communications and Marriott International that are headquartered in the region. While the needs of these businesses differ, the factors drawing them to the area are the same. “It's easy to grow here,” Sternbach says. For large corporations, the county provides easy access to clients and major transportation networks, including three international airports within a 30-minute drive. For smaller firms or those just launching, it offers a top-notch workforce drawn from three local universities as well as the surrounding D.C. area.
“We have the talent pool to support companies today as well as 10 to 15 years down the road,” Sternbach says. The county also has 65 million square feet of office space and a wealth of business support services, including a network of industry associations, 15 chambers of commerce, mentoring programs and four county-owned incubators. Its incentives include a tax abatement program for new construction, lease rebates for companies moving into the region, and tax credits for companies that hire 25 or more permanent, full-time employees and occupy 5,000 square feet of new and previously unoccupied space. “We are doing everything we can to say, 'Our doors are open, and we will work with you to make it easy for you to get here and stay here,' ” Sternbach says. This welcoming environment extends not only to the region's leading industries such as life sciences, information technology, and communications and satellites, but also to emerging industries like cyber security, green energy and biotechnology. Montgomery County recently debuted a series of tax credits for investors in these industries, along with grants to help life sciences firms developing drugs, vaccines and other innovations. Forward Focused The county recently partnered with the state of Maryland and the National Institute of Standards and Technology to form the National Cybersecurity Center of Excellence, which works with companies developing cyber technologies, from those designed to protect the electric grid to defense and transportation systems to those securing e-commerce transactions.
Next, economic development leaders are teaming up with BioHealth Innovation Inc., (BHI) to launch a health technology accelerator, Relevant Health. The five-month program will help startups developing mobile and information technologies for the field commercialize their products. Along with its rich resources for businesses, Montgomery County offers an unrivaled quality of life that draws executives, entrepreneurs and professionals of all ages with its nationally ranked K-12 system, diverse housing options, plentiful arts and culture, and abundant recreation. “We have a character of place that appeals to a lot of different demographics and people across multiple generations,” Sullivan says.