Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Leggett: Montgomery County becoming a "bedroom community" as jobs go elsewhere

The latest vindication of my diagnosis of what ails Montgomery County comes from our highest-ranking elected official, and de facto leader of the Democratic Party, County Executive Ike Leggett. I've been noting for years, to the displeasure of the County's political cartel, that we are becoming a bedroom community for the growing job centers elsewhere in our region. In the meantime, our private sector economy has become moribund.

Leggett now agrees with me. In testimony before the County Council's Government Operations and Fiscal Policy Committee last Thursday, Leggett's special assistant Joy Nurmi relayed his concerns on this very topic.

Nurmi noted that the percentage of development that is residential rose between 2005 and 2014, while the percentage that is office, retail and industrial declined. She said Leggett opposes impact tax increases on developers that could disincentivize office, retail and industrial projects.

"We are trending toward becoming a bedroom community and he doesn’t want to drive us further in that direction," Nurmi warned the Council. "It is a trend. And he is very concerned about disincentivizing commercial development anywhere in the County."

It is indeed a trend, with the County Council and/or Planning Board having allowed commercial properties, job centers and office buildings in Rockledge, Wheaton, Westbard, Aspen Hill, and the I-270 corridor to be converted to residential in recent months and years. The City of Rockville has approved similar conversions in King Farm, Tower Oaks, and the Shady Grove corridor in the last 24 months.

Loss of office space, businesses and land for corporate headquarters (MoCo hasn't attracted a major one in two decades) means more and more commuters driving to reach job centers elsewhere in Northern Virginia. And over the last 16 years, Montgomery County lost over 2000 retail jobs, according to the Maryland Association of Retailers. All of that means more traffic congestion on County roads.

Leggett joins other heavy hitters who are now starting to acknowledge the truth I've been reporting for years. The Washington Post recently referred to the County's eastern half as "economically moribund" (hopefully in the near future, they'll realize the western half is, too. But it's huge that they even acknowledged half is). And the former Chief of Staff to failed Councilmember Hans Riemer concurred, declaring Montgomery County's private sector economy "stagnant," and suffering from "weak economic performance" and "sluggish growth" during his ex-boss's tenure.

I couldn't have said it better myself!

In addition to the loss of those retail jobs, Montgomery County today has less private sector jobs than it did in 2001. Ouch.

During that time, Loudoun County gained 42,929 jobs. The District gained 78,011 jobs.

How many did we gain? Zero.

In fact, we had only a net loss of jobs, losing 3885 while the counties all around us averaged 9.5% in private sector job growth during those 15 years. Montgomery County is indeed a great place to live - hence our always-booming residential growth. Increasingly, however, it is not a place to work.

Leggett is correct. I'm correct. We are becoming the bedroom community for the region. And now we need to get a County Council that doesn't live in an alternate reality, and can get us out of the economic development mess we're in. We can start by voting for term limits this November.


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