Montgomery jobs chief: Fairfax 'will always have more jobs'

Local,Maryland,Virginia,Rachel Baye

Montgomery County will never match up to Fairfax County when it comes to economic development, Montgomery County's economic development director said.

"They don't have an Ag Reserve, they don't have a local income tax, they have an airport," Steve Silverman said of Montgomery's sister county across the Potomac. "They will always have more jobs than we do and more commercial development."

Silverman made the comment during a performance review of Silverman's department by CountyStat, the county's data analysis arm. Statistics presented during the meeting showed that halfway through 2011, the most recent period for which data are available, Montgomery County had more employed residents than most jurisdictions in the region, such as Frederick, Prince George's, Howard, Arlington and Loudoun counties. But Montgomery had fewer than the District and the demographically similar Fairfax County.

Montgomery vs. Fairfax
Total population971,7771,081,726
Total employment450,524580,136
Private sector jobs365,068500,230
Unemployment rate4.8%4.2%
Sources: Montgomery County CountyStat, U.S. Census Bureau, U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics

In fact, the county fared well compared with the rest of Maryland, creating more net jobs -- 3,853 versus 2,184 statewide -- as well has having higher average earnings and showing a slightly larger increase in jobs from the previous year.

The county is also projecting about a 2 percent growth in jobs in fiscal 2012, said Tim Firestine, the county's chief administrative officer.

But the Department of Economic Development showed a significant decline in its recruitment of new businesses.

In fiscal 2011, the county had the lowest number of prospective recruits in the six years since the department began tracking the data, and recruited the smallest portion of those recruits to the county. Of the 124 businesses the department was trying to recruit, 33 actually opened shop.

By comparison, 85 of the 199 businesses the department sought in fiscal 2010 came to the county.

Silverman attributed the decline to a decrease in staff. He also pointed to deals to which the county devoted significant resources, like an effort to recruit defense contractor Northrop Grumman to the county, that were unsuccessful. Northrop Grumman moved to Fairfax County last summer.

To better compete with Fairfax, Montgomery leaders should focus on their assets, rather than their differences, according to Stephen Fuller, director of the George Mason University Center for Regional Analysis.

"The kind of businesses being attracted to Fairfax by and large don't fix in well in Montgomery County, and vice versa," he said. Montgomery County's strength lies in biotechnology and health sciences, while Fairfax is stronger in the defense industry.

The two counties are in different environments, he added. Fairfax has the clear advantage on taxes, especially with proposed income tax increases in Maryland. But companies that are a good fit will move there anyway, he said.

"One isn't better than the other," Fuller said. "They're just different."

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