Showing posts with label economic development. Show all posts
Showing posts with label economic development. Show all posts

Thursday, July 11, 2024

Virginia is named #1 state for business; Maryland is...31st


CNBC
released its annual America's Top States for Business list this morning, and as usual, our neighbor across the Potomac has cleaned our clock once again. The cable network declared Virginia the top state for business in America. Maryland ranked 31st on the list for 2024. Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin is already taking a victory lap this morning. "I am thrilled that our great Commonwealth has been named America’s Top State for Business," Youngkin said in a statement. Rest assured you won't be seeing a press release from Maryland today on the subject.

You won't be surprised to know that other states in the top 10 include Texas and Tennessee. But southern, right-to-work states didn't completely dominate the top tier, as union redoubts Minnesota, Michigan, and Washington came in at #6, #9, and #10, respectively. Pro-labor policies don't make for an anti-business state all by themselves.

Delaware surprisingly finished below Maryland. The First State is usually associated with corporations, but is apparently a better place to incorporate your business than to actually operate a business - in CNBC's evaluation. Of course, Elon would strongly disagree.

Why is Maryland failing? It isn't only our failure to attract Fortune 500 companies to the state.

Virginia has the third-best infrastructure in America, according to CNBC. Maryland's infrastructure is ranked way down at 37th-best in America. Ouch. This isn't surprising when you consider that Virginia has built countless miles of new highways; installed Express Lanes on I-395, I-495, and all the way down to Fredericksburg on I-95; expanded Metro subway service through Fairfax and Loudoun Counties to Dulles Airport; now has three passenger airports in Northern Virginia alone, including the vast array of international business destinations only accessible via Dulles Airport; and has greatly expanded - at its own expense - Amtrak and Virginia Railway Express rail service. CNBC also took note of Virginia's "shovel-ready" site availablity. 

Over the same period, Maryland has built - well, not much at all. Maryland finally managed to replace the Nice Bridge over the Potomac River after many delays, only to see the Key Bridge in Baltimore collapse because state leaders for decades failed to make the necessary safety improvements they were warned to in 1980. The Purple Line delays speak for themselves. Gov. Wes Moore recently revived the plans for the Baltimore Red Line, but the state lacks any money to build it in the foreseeable future. 

Likewise, there's no cash for commuter rail in Southern Maryland or a new Bay Bridge, and any financial drain from the operation of the Purple Line is already directed to take money from other transportation projects to cover the shortfall. Maryland continues to kick the solutions for congestion on I-270 and I-495 can down the road. 

Montgomery County likes to cancel transportation infrastructure as much as it likes to ban things. Unless you are a bike lane, you are likely to be canceled by the County Council. The Council's transportation fails include announcing the cancellation of the Montrose Parkway East in White Flint on the very day that Amazon reps were touring the White Flint area during the Amazon HQ2 competition. Our talented County Council also canceled all of the major transportation infrastructure that was required to support its approval of massive housing development in Germantown, Clarksburg and Damascus - - the Corridor Cities Transitway light rail system, and the M-83 Highway. The Rockville Freeway? Removed from the master plan decades ago.

Maryland infamously continues to block construction of any new bridges over the Potomac River, denying itself congestion relief that might negate the need to widen the Beltway and I-270, as well as providing direct access to Dulles Airport that would be essential to attracting major corporations to the I-270 corridor. That highway extension of I-370 to VA-28 has an existing right-of-way from Gaithersburg to the Potomac River crossing site, but none of the intelligence, will, or leadership to build it.

The infrastructure picture in Maryland is so bad, we couldn't even keep the ancient White's Ferry operating. Remember when former Maryland Gov. Bob Ehrlich built an entire highway, the InterCounty Connector, all by himself? It is now, rightfully, named for him. Our leaders today are super low-energy, by comparison.

Former MD Gov. Bob Ehrlich

Where else does Maryland fall short for business, according to CNBC? We're nearly the worst in America for the "Cost of Doing Business," landing at 47 out of 50. "Right into the buckle - that's gotta hurt, Gene." Montgomery County has the highest tax burden in the Washington, D.C. region, and our County and State tax structures are simply not competitive with Virginia.

CNBC shares the growing consensus that the economies of Montgomery County and Maryland are moribund. Maryland's economy ranks 30th out of all 50 states on their list. And that's probably being very generous of them. Grading on a curve.

Maryland's score for "Workforce" is nearly as bad, at 28 out of 50. This is shocking given that we have some of the most highly-educated populations in America in several counties. But CNBC finds our workforce to be worse than average.

Virginia is #1 for education. Maryland is #14. This isn't surprising if you've watched the slow motion 100-car-pileup decline of Montgomery County Public Schools since the departure of Dr. Jerry Weast, the last MCPS superintendent who - for whatever faults he had - was actually professionally-qualified for the job.

Maryland ranks way down at #37 for "Business Friendliness." Virginia is #5 in that column.

If you're an elected official in Maryland,
don't turn on CNBC today

The news isn't all bad. Maryland rises to 16 out of 50 in quality of life. Texas is dead last in that category. But Virginia is only 3 points behind us at 19th. The Commonwealth was also 19th in cost-of-living. That means they beat us there, too. 

CNBC also ranks Maryland in the top 10 states for Technology and Innovation, at #8. This is pretty surprising, too, but likely the result of Montgomery County's only economic bright spot, the biotech sector. Virginia has superior tech infrastructure, and has been home to many more notable tech firms, but somehow ends up at 15 in this category.

We already know that Montgomery County hasn't attracted a single major corporate headquarters in over a quarter century. But it's becoming more surprising by the day that Gov. Moore has been unable to attract such HQs or significant manufacturing facilities to the state. One of his biggest calling cards and selling points was that he was a successful Wall Street businessman. He regularly hobnobs and fundraises among the financial elite on Martha's Vineyard and in the Hamptons. Surely, his Rolodex is bursting at the seams with CEO phone numbers. But, perplexingly, he has yet to score a big win in the corporate HQ and factory races.

The CNBC list only reinforces what engaged observers in our County and State already know. We're in real trouble, folks. And the lack of business starts, development and growth are hitting the County and State budgets harder than ever. Just look at the latest County Council tax hikes (and ballot questions to facilitate even-bigger tax hikes starting next year), and the dystopian budget headlines out of Annapolis. 

We can't go on like this.

Wednesday, June 19, 2024

Losing to Virginia on another factory, is Montgomery County in the hunt for IKEA manufacturing site?


Montgomery County and Maryland were beaten in the economic development game again by Virginia yesterday. Will they be players in the next big manufacturing competition, for an IKEA factory on American soil? Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin's office announced Tuesday that his state had won the competition for a 400,000-square-foot Condair Group AG manufacturing facility. The press release indicated that Virginia and South Carolina were the two finalists. Meanwhile, the Financial Times reported this past weekend that IKEA is scouting for factory locations in the United States, due to increasing disruptions in international shipping lanes.

Virginia could already have a [LÖVBACKEN table] leg up in the IKEA race, as the Swedish furniture giant previously operated its only U.S. factory in Danville, Virginia from 2008 to 2019. It ultimately closed that plant, shipping its 300 jobs back to Europe. Montgomery County has plenty of room for an IKEA plant in the I-270 corridor, where there is also potential direct rail access to the CSX Metropolitan Subdivision for domestic or port shipping purposes. Of course, Baltimore, Hagerstown and Cumberland are among the struggling Maryland cities that could use an IKEA plant to help revive their once-mighty industrial areas.

There's no indication of Montgomery County or Maryland having been in the hunt for the Condair plant. The $57.2 million investment by Condair in Chesterfield County, Virginia will create 180 good-paying industrial jobs with full benefits. Instead of Condair products being exported out of the Port of Baltimore, they'll be headed out of Richmond Marine Terminal in Virginia, according to the press release.

"When an international brand like Condair makes the decision to locate in Virginia, the positive ripple-effects of economic investment, job creation and cargo growth are felt throughout the Commonwealth," Virginia Port Authority CEO Stephen A. Edwards said in a statement. "The Port of Virginia will be among the beneficiaries of Condair’s location in Chesterfield County, which is not far from Richmond Marine Terminal. We are ready to collaborate with Condair to help it leverage the assets of this port — America’s most modern gateway — to ensure it has access to world markets." 

"Virginia is the perfect location for the international company Condair to establish its state-of-the-art manufacturing facility," Youngkin said in a statement Tuesday. "We applaud the 21st century manufacturing jobs that this project will bring to Chesterfield County."

Sunday, April 7, 2024

Montgomery County's moribund economy just needs...more cowbell, Planning Dept. says


Montgomery County's moribund economy isn't a new problem. I've been writing about it for over a decade. In more recent years, The Washington Post editorial board has finally acknowledged that MoCo, once the economic engine of the Washington, D.C. region, has become stagnant - - though only in the service of their Ahab-like crusade against their chief nemesis, Marc Elrich. Even a handful of politicians have begun admitting it, from Elrich himself, to his twice-vanquished opponent David Blair, and even Maryland Gov. Wes Moore. But despite the arrival of more-powerful voices at the table, Montgomery County and Maryland's policies have yet to change. In fact, the Montgomery County Planning Department is now arguing that the solution is to double down on the failed path we've been on: "More cowbell!"

In a recent series on the department's relentlessly pro-developer blog, The Third Place, we find the latest example of the Montgomery County cartel phenomenon we might call, "Now more than ever..." Whatever the latest crisis to befall a sector, demographic or geographic area of the County, their solution is always the same: Build more luxury housing. Whether it's the moribund economy, failing schools, increasing poverty, or the decline of an area like Friendship Heights, our elected officials tell us the answer - "now more than ever" - is to build more luxury apartments.

The Third Place series is just the latest example of this "More cowbell!" argument. 

It is ostensibly a deep dive into the stagnation of the Montgomery County economy. But as the series advances beyond a deceptive twisting of statistics that aren't actually the root cause of the stagnation, it eventually arrives at a familiar conclusion - we need to build more luxury housing.

More cowbell!

Most residents will never read this blog series, but you the taxpayer are not the target audience, anyway. Like most reports generated by the Planning Department, the purpose is to provide Astroturf data and analysis our developer-funded elected officials can point to as justification for upzoning greater and greater areas of the County. But if a resident of one of the most highly-educated jurisdictions in America were to read this blog series, they would quickly sense that something is amiss.

For example, Part I classifies Montgomery County residents who make $138,750 and above as "high-income" residents. In the real world, that's called "barely-keeping-your-head-above-water" in Montgomery County. Many County residents skating by on maxed-out credit, the bank-of-Mom-and-Dad, and assorted other survival tactics would be shocked to learn that they are "rich." 

The reason for this low wealth bar becomes clear as you continue reading. It is a way to make it seem that the "rich" portion of the population has merely remained constant. In reality, the flight of the rich from Montgomery County has been well-documented, down to the amount of tax revenue in millions that those wealthy expats have taken with them to lower-tax jurisdictions in the area. 

Were we to classify "high-income" more accurately, we would see that those numbers have declined significantly. The exodus has been most clearly seen in Montgomery County plummeting entirely off of the Forbes Top Ten Richest Counties list last decade, and in the collapse of "Montgomery County's Rodeo Drive" in Friendship Heights, which in recent years has become a stretch of aging apartment buildings and vacant storefronts.

As the rich have fled, they have been replaced - and then some - by low-income residents. The Third Place acknowledges this. "Specifically, our analysis shows that between 2005 and 2022, Montgomery County’s low-income population grew faster than the other groups. Montgomery County’s middle-income population shrank." Charles, Frederick, Howard, Loudoun, and Prince William counties can surely attest to the latter, as they've welcomed those cash-strapped, taxed-to-death MoCo refugees, along with the Virginia exurbs.

While that tax revenue has flowed outward, our business growth has dropped to the lowest in the region. Our job creation numbers have collapsed, and even fallen behind Prince George's County in recent years. And Montgomery County hasn't attracted a single major corporate headquarters in over a quarter century, a time frame that neatly dovetails with the MoCo cartel's seizure of the County Council in 2002 with the "End Gridlock" slate. As does the shift of population growth to the bottom of the income scale.

What urgent strategic and policy changes does The Third Place recommend to turn the tide, and attract the business and commercial revenue we need?

"The main, actionable takeaway from this research is to encourage the production of market-rate infill housing."

We know, of course, that "market-rate" housing in Montgomery County is expensive. There's no shortage of expensive housing in the County. We also know, from hard experience since 2002, that massive construction of new luxury housing does not reduce rents or home prices. Period. And because new residential housing generates more costs in County services than it does in tax revenue, building more won't solve our structural budget deficit. Much less restore our moribund economy.

Did the rich flee Montgomery County because home prices were too cheap? Not quite. Would middle class residents return en masse from the exurbs if we produced more $1 million townhomes and $2 million duplexes? Nope.

What would actually make Montgomery County a booming jurisdiction, make it possible for more residents to afford living here, and fill the County's revenue coffers? High-wage jobs from major corporate employers. 

The Third Place worries that currently, "there will be nowhere for affordable-housing residents to go once they are ready to upgrade." But it doesn't explain how janitors, cooks and grocery store bakers will suddenly be flush with the cash needed to buy that luxury housing that The Third Place wants to overdevelop even more than today. 

Here's a hint: Jobs. Good jobs. The kind we haven't been attracting to Montgomery County for a couple of decades now.

Gov. Wes Moore seems to understand this, noting that Maryland's economy today simply can't provide the revenue to fund his ambitious agenda. This year's legislative session in Annapolis seems to indicate that his message fell on deaf ears among his General Assembly colleagues. Likewise, Elrich has come around to the idea that the County should be attracting high-wage jobs. But his legislative colleagues on the County Council haven't joined him yet. 

The cumulative impact of elected officials who write the laws remaining stubborn in their ways - and loyal to the real estate developers who elected them - will only hasten the exit of wealth and revenue from Montgomery County. In addition to the massive property and recordation tax hikes passed last year, low and middle-income workers will soon be paying several hundred dollars to register their work trucks and soccer mom minivans. A 75-cent tax on every Uber ride. Even a $1.25 more on each pack of smokes. All of these are extremely regressive taxes.

A quick look at the press release pages of Gov. Moore and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin gives just a small sense of the problem. Both men have Rolodexes stuffed with Wall Street and corporate connections. Surprisingly, Moore has so far failed to convince any of his friends in the Hamptons or Martha's Vineyard to relocate their Fortune 500 companies to Maryland. And that's even amid a downward trend for Virginia under Youngkin. The GOP 2028 aspirant's announcements of new, major corporate headquarters relocating to the Old Dominion have come at a much more sporadic pace than under his two Democratic predecessors.

But even as Virginia begins to flounder a bit, and budget woes creep up on legislators in Arlington and Fairfax counties who have begun to follow the big-spending ways of MoCo, we have not been able to seize any momentary advantage.

Not only has Youngkin failed to tee up many big wins, but when he does, he now has a legislature that is more like the one in Annapolis to block him. That's partly his own fault, for bizarrely making the last state election about abortion, a sure losing crusade even in red states - much less a blue one like Virginia. And he even turned away a Ford electric vehicle battery plant. Tired of winning, perhaps?

Yet, even as Virginia slips into a lower economic gear, 2024 has brought another major corporate HQ to Virginia. CoStar - which once was headquartered in Bethesda(!!), before fleeing to the District in 2010 - purchased the 1201 Wilson Boulevard office tower in Rosslyn for its new global HQ. It will bring its existing 500 jobs, and add 150 additional jobs in its new Virginia home. 

CoStar joins Northrup Grumman, Capital One, Hilton Hotels, Volkswagen, Lidl, Intelsat, Gannett, General Dynamics, Blackboard, Corporate Executive Board, Nestle, Gerber, Lego, and the rest of a truly-headspinning list of household-name companies to select Northern Virginia over Montgomery County in recent times.

During the same Q1 period in Maryland, Gov. Moore was only able to announce the relocation of Blink Charging Co. from Florida to Bowie. That's certainly a positive and welcome development, but it's not a major or Fortune 500 company. The number of existing corporate expansions in Maryland so far this year has also been dwarfed by the number in Virginia. 

Over the first three months of 2024, Gov. Youngkin issued press releases announcing 9 other new or expanding businesses adding jobs to the state. During the same period, Maryland only had 2, another resounding defeat in regional competition.

It was encouraging news that when Moore received the phone call about the Key Bridge collapse, he was on an unannounced business trip to Boston. This at least shows he may currently be working on something big behind the scenes.

Montgomery County was once the place where such big economic development news was made in the DC region. What I've argued for over a decade has been further vindicated by the collapse of the office market after the pandemic rise of working-from-home. 

We need to be attracting major corporate headquarters, and research and manufacturing facilities, from the aerospace, defense and tech sectors. These are the sectors that need large, secure campuses in suburban office parks, the kind we - thankfully, for now - still have plenty of. And room to build plenty more. The anonymous apologists for the County Council said I was a fool, and that companies wanted to be in traditional office buildings by Metro stations in urban areas. 

It turns out I was right. "Now more than ever," you might say.

Currently, the ever-increasing and regressive tax burden caused by our elected officials' profligate spending is falling almost entirely on residents. We are leaving all of the commercial, business tax revenue - and income revenue from high-wage jobs, on the table for our rivals in Virginia, for whom we've become a bedroom community. 

By adopting more-competitive business policies, adding missing infrastructure like a new Potomac River crossing to provide direct access to Dulles International Airport, and being aggressive in attracting the evergreen industries that provide high-income employment in good times and bad, we can ease the tax and fee burden on residents. 

Monday, October 16, 2023

Prime redevelopment site on the auction block in Rockville Town Center


A property with one of the most-desirable and high-traffic locations in Rockville Town Center will be auctioned off in 28 days. 255 Rockville Pike is currently improved with a three-story office building and heavily-used parking garage. While that would provide a steady income for the winning bidder, the site is also directly across from - and connected to via skybridge - the Rockville Metro station. That means the property is also eligible for a transit-oriented redevelopment at much greater height and density than the current structure.


255 Rockville Pike was once part of the now-demolished Rockville Mall. In recent decades, it was home to Montgomery County government offices. Now that those have been moved to the County's new government building in Wheaton, the vacant building is being put on the auction block. This puts a transit-oriented site on the heavily-traveled MD 355 highway corridor into play on the City of Rockville's economic growth chessboard. The Metro station across the street is not only served by WMATA's Red Line subway trains, but also Maryland's MARC commuter rail, and Amtrak's Washington D.C. to Chicago route trains.


Transwestern, which is marketing the Ten-X Commercial auction, notes that the current building's 12-foot ceilings would also make it a prime candidate for conversion to a biotech facility. It could also be redeveloped as a high-visibility corporate headquarters. Of course, as Montgomery County hasn't attracted a major corporate headquarters in a quarter century, there is also the very real probability of the site being redeveloped as a mixed-use residential tower. Some have long touted the need for more residents in the Town Center, to support the businesses in that struggling area, which the latter use would provide, although others have pointed to parking issues as the primary culprit for the area's empty storefronts.


The City of Rockville's 2040 Comprehensive master plan anticipates that 255 Rockville Pike will indeed be demolished and redeveloped. "It is recommended that the City take an active role in the
redevelopment of this area as a prominent site in Rockville’s downtown," the plan states regarding 255 Rockville Pike. "Redevelopment of this property should contribute to the realization of the Town Center downtown L-shaped ‘spine,’ and incorporate an expanded pedestrian promenade over MD-355 to the Rockville Transit Station."


Such recommendations suggest that the City, which is about to elect a new mayor and City Council, will be heavily engaged in any redevelopment of this property. While this could add to the complexity of building something new here, it's also likely that the new property owner could wrangle some benefits or concessions from the City if it presents a project with the amenities and potential to improve the Town Center/Metro station area's environment, business climate, and pedestrian safety. With such a rare opportunity for new construction at the Rockville Metro station, there should be no shortage of bidders. As the auction listing notes, the site's PD-RCI zoning allows for high-rise construction, but also the most Metro-accessible location for a biotech facility in the I-270 life sciences corridor.

Photos courtesy Transwestern

Friday, September 15, 2023

Maryland Gov. Wes Moore joins President Biden in announcing adult education funding


Maryland Governor Wes Moore (D) joined President Joe Biden (D) at an event at Prince George's Community College in Largo Thursday, where Moore announced he is directing $17.4 million in funding toward adult education. More than half of the money will come from the federal government, and the remaining $7.9 million will be redirected from the Maryland Department of Labor budget. The recipients of the funds will be all 16 Maryland community colleges, two local K-12 school systems (Somerset and Worcester counties), three community-based organizations, one public library system and the state correctional education system. One of the three community-based organizations is Classroom to Community in Montgomery County.

“Together, we will grow an economy that works for everyone, from the bottom up and the middle out,” Gov. Moore said. “President Biden has been very clear about his vision to empower and educate workers to grow the middle class. It’s a vision I stand by because it’s good for Maryland, good for our people, and good for our economy. Together, we are going to work in partnership to follow the president’s lead, build out our workforce, grow the economy, and win this decade.” 

Moore recently expressed his concern about the state's moribund economy, and the resulting lack of revenue that will limit his ability to fund initiatives he has proposed. That concern was heightened by the announcement this week that Maryland's Transportation Trust Fund is running out of money.

Biden and Moore were also joined by Maryland Congressman Steny Hoyer (D) and Maryland's U.S. Senators Ben Cardin (D) and Chris Van Hollen (D). The president was introduced by Prince George's County Community College student Sadé Davis.

Tuesday, March 28, 2023

Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich leading economic development mission to Taiwan


Montgomery County Executive Marc Elrich has accepted an invitation from the Taipei Computer Association to speak at its 2023 Smart Cities Summit and Expo in Taiwan this week. He won't be alone on the trip, as he is leading a delegation to the event. Elrich's guests will be County Councilmember Natali Fani-Gonzales, chair of the Council’s Economic Development Committee; Kevin Beverly, board chair of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation (MCEDC); Gail Roper, Montgomery County’s chief information officer; and Judy Costello, Montgomery County's special projects manager for Business, Innovation and Economic Development.

Representatives of five businesses that specialize in what a County press release calls "Smart Cities-related technologies" will also travel with the delegation. The companies are DFSFederal, Lumo Imaging (located in Potomac), Machfu (Rockville), Person Clinic (Rockville), and TSS, LLC. Not mentioned in the press release is whether their travel costs are being paid for by the County, or the businesses themselves.

The event will culminate this Friday, when Elrich will meet with Chiang Wan-an, the mayor of Taipei. Elrich will be one of only four members of the 1,300 expo participants who will participate in the mayor’s conference-ending press conference.

“I’m looking forward to meeting with Taiwanese business and academic leaders to learn more about their activities and to speak with them about why Montgomery County is a top location for them to enter or expand their presence in the United States," Elrich said in a statement.  “Getting Montgomery County’s economy moving and working for everyone is my top priority as the Chair of Council Economic Development Committee,” Councilmember Fani-González said in the joint statement with Elrich. “That is why I am thrilled to join the County Executive and County business leaders on this delegation to Taiwan to bring investment and jobs to the County. We will aggressively court businesses and academic and research institutions to choose Montgomery County for their next location.”

Tuesday, February 28, 2023

Montgomery County loses another corporate HQ to Virginia


There goes another one. Amentum Services, a leading government contractor in the fields of engineering, project management and advanced solutions integration, is moving from Germantown to Chantilly in Fairfax County, Virginia. The latest corporate decision to choose Virginia over Montgomery County will bring 157 new jobs to Fairfax County - good jobs with high pay. Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin (R) announced the move in a press release Monday.

According to Youngkin's statement, Virginia competed directly with Maryland to woo Amentum, which has 44,000 employees working in 85 countries around the world. “Fairfax County offers the location, access to decision-makers, and talent pipeline that global providers like Amentum are seeking, and we are proud to welcome the company’s leadership and operations team to Virginia,” Youngkin said. “Amentum joins the ranks of the Commonwealth’s diversified ecosystem of more than 800 corporate headquarters across a broad cross-section of industries.”

“I want to thank and congratulate Amentum for choosing Fairfax County for its home base,” Fairfax County Board of Supervisors Chairman Jeffrey C. McKay said in statement. “Our long-term investment into making Fairfax County the top choice to locate a global business continues to bear fruit, and I am thrilled that Amentum has chosen to take advantage of what we offer.” 

Amentum is the latest corporation to abandon moribund Montgomery County for Virginia, or choose Virginia over Maryland in a relocation search. It joins Amazon, Northrop Grumman, Volkswagen, Lidl, Hilton Hotels, Intelsat, Corporate Executive Board, Nestle, Lego, and Gerber, to name a few. 

Montgomery County and Maryland have had difficulty even gobbling up the crumbs under Virginia's dinner table. When Youngkin made the surprising decision to reject a Ford Motor Company battery plant recently, Maryland wasn't even a serious contender to grab the jump ball. That fumble apparently happened on the watch of former Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) and the 2018-2022 Montgomery County Council, as Michigan was quickly named as Ford's backup choice. 

Friday, October 7, 2022

Rockville office building owner seeks height exemption for rooftop biotech equipment


Here is some good news from the King Farm area of Rockville. Instead of yet another request to convert office zoning to residential use, an office building landlord is seeking a waiver from the City of Rockville that could instead increase the number of high-wage jobs in King Farm. Banyan Street Capital has requested a height waiver for its existing office building at 805 King Farm Boulevard. It is seeking the waiver to allow additional rooftop equipment for a biotech tenant's needs, and a higher rooftop screen wall to block that equipment from view for aesthetic reasons.

In a letter to the Rockville Planning Commission, Banyan Street's attorney, Pat Harris, says that the waiver and new rooftop equipment are "vital to the Applicant’s intended research and development (“R&D”) uses within the building, and the expansion of life science uses in the greater King Farm community." She adds that the new 12' Envel-paneled rooftop screen wall will be designed to closely match the exterior skin of the office building.

Banyan Street Capital completed its acquisition of four office properties in the King Farm employment zone earlier this year. It is making upgrades and amenity enhancements at all of those properties, in what it has branded as The District at King Farm. In addition to the rooftop equipment, Banyan Street says it will be opening a new cafe in the 805 King Farm Boulevard building.

The Planning Commission will consider the waiver request at its October 26, 2022 meeting. It is likely to approve the request, as it voted to allow a similar exemption for sister building 800 King Farm Boulevard in November 2021. A potentially great opportunity for more King Farm residents to be able to walk to high-paying jobs, which was one of the original visions for the community.

Tuesday, October 4, 2022

Miller's Ale House has closed in Rockville


Miller's Ale House
has closed at 1471 Rockville Pike. The restaurant and bar operated there for a decade.  Miller's had a 4.1 out of 5 rating on Google and Facebook, a 3.5 on TripAdvisor and 3 stars on Yelp, so they weren't exactly run out of town. Its closure really is the end of an era, in a way.

When Miller's Ale House opened in 2012, it looked like a new age of nightlife might be upon us in Rockville. Bar Louie and American Tap Room had also just opened at Rockville Town Square. And there were old standbys like Gordon Biersch and Hooters. Look around in 2022, and every single one of those businesses is gone.


This may simply be Rockville's chapter in the larger book of Montgomery County nightlife being slammed shut over the last decade. The county had a good number of bars and nightclubs around 2010, and certainly was positioned to improve with the right policies at the county level. Just the opposite ended up happening.

It started with a major hike in the County energy tax, one that saw businesses like Target and Magruder's having to dim their lighting, posting apologetic signs explaining it was due to the energy tax. A series of other anti-business votes were taken by the Council in the ensuing years, over the objections of business owners.


Melvin Thompson of the Restaurant Association of Maryland warned councilmembers in 2016 that Montgomery County's restaurant sector had gone flat since 2012. In contrast, Thompson noted, Fairfax County's restaurant sector had grown by 6% in the previous year alone. Frederick County's had jumped 5.4% over the same period. The Council ignored Thompson, and passed more taxes (including a whopping 9% property tax increase), more regulations, and a $15 minimum wage. 

At the same time, the Council also lashed out at food trucks. Part of the bubbling up of a potentially vibrant new era of nightlife was the new phenomenon of food trucks, which would park in legal parking spots in busy areas at lunchtime in Bethesda, Rockville and Silver Spring. Some would also park in nightlife areas later, to serve patrons emerging after bars closed for the night. 


The Council banned such mobile food operations, limiting food trucks to private property. Trucks - the majority of which were based in Washington, D.C. - retreated over the Maryland border into the District. Office workers in Friendship Heights had a clear view of trucks still working the lunch hour just over the line in D.C. Montgomery County's food truck scene was gone, with the exception of those who were invited to cater private events, or to park on private property like gas stations.

Over the last decade, at least 21 nightspots closed in downtown Bethesda alone. Incredibly, all of those closures followed the Council's 2012 "Nighttime Economy Initiative." Hyped to the max by some local media outlets at the time, the initiative - along with the rest of the misguided Council actions of the last decade - ended up tanking the nighttime economy countywide. The demise of Miller's is only the latest example of that collapse.




Friday, September 16, 2022

Maryland Gov. Hogan announces Korean firm UNDBIO to establish R&D lab in Rockville

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan meeting with
South Korean President Yoon Suk-yeol in Seoul 

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) announced more positive economic developments for his state from his economic development trip to Asia today. Rockville is one of the winners in Hogan's outreach, as the governor reported that South Korean biotech firm UNDBIO has agreed to establish a 25,000 square foot research and development facility here. Twinlabs, a Rockville real estate firm that specializes in life sciences, reached a lease agreement with UNDBIO, who have committed $100,000,000 to the project.

UNDBIO anticipates the new facility will develop and manufacture insulin samples for FDA approval. These approved products will then enter the pharmaceutical market. The company possesses unique proprietary insulin production technology, which will be employed in the Rockville venture.

"Maryland is proud to be home to hundreds of life sciences companies that set the bar for biotechnology innovation and fuel our region’s innovative economy, and we are excited to welcome the life-saving work of UNDBIO to Rockville,” Hogan said in a statement this afternoon. “This is yet another shining example that Maryland is open for business and further evidence of our state’s special bond with the Republic of Korea.”

“I am happy to establish our relationship with the State of Maryland to undertake the research and development required to produce affordable insulin and insulin analogues for the diabetic population around the globe,” UNDBIO’s Chairman Jun Yong-soo said. “We look forward to developing high paying biotech jobs for Maryland, and would welcome other partners into our global insulin project.”

Tuesday, October 26, 2021

Choice Hotels to move headquarters out of City of Rockville to Pike & Rose


Less than a decade after moving its corporate headquarters from Silver Spring to Rockville Town Center, Choice Hotels International is leaving the city. The hospitality firm, which has been located in Montgomery County since 1968, will move outside the city limits to unincorporated Rockville at the Pike & Rose development. 

Choice will move its operations into a new, 16-story office tower at 915 Meeting Street at the Federal Realty-owned development. It will take the place of an existing surface parking lot. The firm will occupy more than 105,000 square feet in the building, a downsizing of 25,000 SF from its current Rockville headquarters. 

The move is shocking, as there was no public indication that Choice was seeking to relocate so soon after building out a state-of-the-art headquarters at 1 Choice Hotels Circle in 2013. Less than ten years ago, the City of Rockville, Montgomery County and Maryland awarded the company $4.3 million in loans and grants, among other concessions, to keep Choice from joining the many companies that have fled the county and state over the last two decades.

Fortunately, the County has at least managed to retain the firm again. Unlike other corporate leaders who have passed on Montgomery County, Choice chair Stewart Bainum is politically-aligned with local and state Democratic leaders to the extent that he is willing to forgo tax savings to stay in the county. Bainum has recently sought to invest his own money to rescue the Baltimore Sun, a favorite newspaper of Democratic politicians statewide that is in danger of falling prey to a private investment firm. He himself has served in the Maryland General Assembly, and is very active in the community.

Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R)

"It is tremendous news that Choice Hotels is opening a new headquarters in North Bethesda, reaffirming its commitment to our state and retaining hundreds of jobs here for years to come," Maryland Governor Larry Hogan (R) said in a statement Monday. "The company has been an outstanding corporate citizen in the community, and we look forward to their continued success here in Maryland and around the world."

Maryland Commerce Secretary Kelly M. Schulz

"Choice Hotels has been an important member of Maryland's tourism industry for more than 50 years and we were very pleased to work with them on the decision for a new headquarters," Maryland Commerce Secretary and Republican gubernatorial candidate Kelly M. Schulz added. "This new location will give a world-class company like Choice Hotels a number of attractive advantages that are so critical to companies today, including proximity to public transportation and a variety of retail, dining and wellness options."

The move further underlines that moribund Montgomery County's economic development victories have been few and  hollow over the last quarter century. No major corporation has relocated its headquarters to Montgomery County in over 25 years. Many of the few that were here have left. County politicians have been reduced to celebrating the relocation of HQs that are already here, such as Marriott moving from North Bethesda to downtown Bethesda, and now Choice from Rockville to "Rockville," a.k.a. North Bethesda. Rather than advancing the ball, this is largely a case of rearranging the furniture on the deck of the Titanic.

Nevertheless, this is a huge win for Federal Realty. Not only does Pike & Rose now gain the cachet of a major corporate headquarters at the expense of rival Foulger Pratt, but all those incoming employees represent new lunch and happy hour customers for the many restaurants at the development. "We are thrilled to welcome Choice Hotels to the growing list of world-class organizations that call Pike & Rose home," Federal Realty CEO Donald Wood said yesterday. "Choice's focus on employee well-being make 915 Meeting Street and the Pike & Rose neighborhood the perfect fit. Its associates will have unparalleled access to state-of-the-art architecture that incorporates the latest wellness features and a thoughtfully curated merchandising mix all within an authentic, vibrant neighborhood with excellent regional access."

Photo courtesy Choice Hotels International

Monday, October 19, 2020

Rockville Mayor and Council to discuss undergrounding MD 355 in Rockville Town Center


Redevelopment of Rockville 
Metro station also to be discussed

A long-term goal of Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton, the undergrounding of MD Route 355 where it passes through Rockville Town Center, will officially come before the Mayor and Council for the first time tonight at its 6:00 PM virtual meeting. The idea has been floated for decades, such as the above rendering from the 2001 Rockville Town Center master plan.

Newton revived the idea in recent years, with a goal of creating more public space for city events, and a calmer traffic environment for the town center. The space could replace the lost town center parking lots where events like Hometown Holidays formerly hosted concerts and carnival rides, but with less asphalt. City staff estimates the potential cost of such a project to be in the $200-300 million range.

This 1990s concept drawing of the
undergrounding of MD 355 created by
a city-hired consultant envisioned the
future redevelopment of the
Rockville Metro station surface areas

There is potential to combine such a project with development or redevelopment of the Rockville Metro station surface lots, and the Rockville Mall-era structure across MD 355 from it. Coincidentally, the Mayor and Council will also be discussing the former topic at tonight's meeting, as well. The staff report notes that the city's Rockville 2040 comprehensive plan draft calls for "a blend of moderate-density housing and neighborhood-serving retail" on the station site, and at the edge of East Rockville.

Images via City of Rockville

Monday, February 24, 2020

Montgomery County Council seeking authority for new property tax, income tax hikes

Montgomery County Councilmember Will Jawando (D - At-Large) will hold a press conference this morning to endorse two bills in the Maryland General Assembly that would broadly increase the Council's ability to hike taxes on property and income. If passed in Annapolis, the new taxing powers would allow the Council to hike property taxes even further on owners of homes 5000 SF or larger, or any subclass of property not specifically excluded in the bill, and to raise the County income tax and set multiple rates based on income. The proposed tax hikes come as County taxpayers are already paying the highest tax rates in history, and as large numbers of wealthy residents continue to flee to lower-tax jurisdictions in the region, resulting in declining revenue for the County as they take their money with them.

Last year, Councilmember Evan Glass (D - At-Large) proposed a "teardown tax," also known as a "McMansion tax." It would have taxed new construction homes that replaced existing homes, and then place an excise tax on the square footage added. The proposal was blasted by homebuilders, many of whom would have been forced out of business by the new taxes. Local media did their darndest to promote Glass and his tax, but rarely told the public that he did not even have the votes on the Council to pass it.

Jawando will endorse a bill today that brings the tax back in a new form - and then some. Applying to homes 5000 SF and larger, it again primarily targets teardown projects, by going after square footage. Jawando claims that 97% of County homeowners own homes less than 5000 SF in size, and promises that they would receive a "property tax cut." However, House Bill 1276 includes no such tax cut. There is also the possibility that the automatic assessment hikes each year would handily eclipse a nominal, tiny "tax cut." In that case, the "97 percent" of homeowners would continue to pay the same high property taxes they are now - and the ongoing annual increases.

The House bill is also much more general then what Jawando's press release would suggest. It could lead to all kinds of new property tax hikes on other kinds of property.

HB 1276 actually would allow the Council to create new, higher property taxes on any subclass of property. The bill appears that it could be used to sneak in the high taxes developers have sought for golf and country clubs that would run them out of business, forcing them to sell their club properties, to open up their vast lands for real estate development. In fact, under the current language, any subclass of property not exempted by the bill could face higher taxes of any amount sought by the Council.
Attorney and activist Robin Ficker
is mobbed by fans outside the
Council Office Building in Rockville
The property tax move is the Council's latest attempt to find an end run around attorney Robin Ficker's successful property tax cap ballot initiative, which requires the Council to vote unanimously to raise property taxes beyond the charter limit. When the Council did last did that, voters responded by voting to pass Ficker's ballot question allowing 12-year term limits on the Council and County Executive.

Ironically, Jawando's press conference is scheduled to take place at 11:45 AM this morning. Fifteen minutes later, at noon, Ficker is expected to deliver 55 lbs. of signed petitions for a new ballot question preventing the Council from passing another 9% property tax hike as they did recently.

But wait, we're not done talking about new taxes!

Jawando will also endorse House Bill 1494, which he claims will allow the County to increase the tax rate on incomes over $1 million a year from 3.2% to 3.5%. The Councilman says such a tax hike on millionaires would raise $88.4 million in new revenue annually.

One must ask, if true, why did the 9% increase of the already-progressive property tax only result in ongoing budget shortfalls each fiscal year since? Revenue is declining, not increasing, under the record-high tax rates now being paid. You can only get so much blood from a stone, especially when that stone has very smart tax advisors on retainer. Some on the Council continue to ignore what their own staff - past and present - has warned them about the impact of overtaxing, and their warnings are borne out in our declining revenue today.

One must also, again, read the actual text of the bill. In fact, under the language in the bill, everyone - that includes you! - could end up paying a higher income tax rate. "But Will Jawando says we won't," someone - likely an obsequious member of the local media or political cartel - might protest. As with the desperate Council attempt to create a Transit Authority last decade, it is key to ignore what the politicians say, and read what the actual bill says.

Under HB 1494, the Council could - for example - hike the income tax of all residents to 3.4%, and of "millionaires" to 3.5%. The bill has no language protecting "non-millionaires" from a higher income tax rate. It only says wealthier residents can't pay a lower tax rate than the people in the brackets under them, and allows the Council to create those brackets.

So even if you think the property tax hike on homes bigger than 5000 SF - and the income tax hike on incomes over $1 million - are good policy, you need to lobby your legislators to actually put those specific provisions into the bill. They aren't there as of this morning.

With no amendments to the text of each bill, both proposals will allow much corrupt mischief by the Council on property taxes, certainly hit local homebuilders and remodeling firms hard financially, and absolutely set up a potential income tax hike for every Montgomery County resident.

Will the proposed tax hikes destroy the Montgomery County economy? Probably not, because the County economy has already been destroyed. The new taxes will simply put a heavier layer of concrete atop the grave of the moribund economic corpse. And will make it all the harder for a future, competent set of new leaders to restore it once we have a free and fair Montgomery County election.

Friday, February 21, 2020

Virginia studying another Metro extension - why isn't Montgomery County?

The Silver Line isn't even finished yet, and booming Northern Virginia is already looking at another ambitious subway extension to Prince William County. Meanwhile, Montgomery County elected officials are looking at a ten-day February vacation, and even sleepier, moribund economic times ahead. What they should be studying are Metro extensions to the Upcounty and East County, studies that should have begun over a decade ago.

Clarksburg is about 12 miles from the Shady Grove Metro station. Burtonsville is around 10 miles from the Silver Spring Metro station. Virginia's $2 million Blue Line study is examining a 15-mile extension to Prince William via Fort Belvoir, Lorton, Potomac Mills and Quantico, modestly bigger than either potential Montgomery County extension.

Rail transit is far more advantageous for economic development than bus rapid transit. Unlike BRT, companies and developers can be assured the new transit isn't going to be suddenly cut off or rerouted. Ridership of rail would be far higher than that of buses or BRT (the County's future "Flash" B"Rapid"T will take a sluggish 87 minutes to travel from Clarksburg to Bethesda - longer than a car in traffic!).

In contrast, Montgomery County couldn't even get the Corridor Cities Transitway bus line built. Instead of high-speed rail technology fomenting a modern economic hub of the future, Montgomery's "Science City" ended up as Sleepy City. Just more stack-and-pack residential development, and thousands more cars vying for space on over-capacity I-270 and MD 355 every rush hour. Promised anchor biotech tenant Johns Hopkins Medicine just exited stage left as a result.

Meanwhile, what jobs we had in the 270 corridor continued to migrate to Northern Virginia and Frederick County. Montgomery County was at rock bottom in the D.C. region for job growth over the last decade. What we need are boardrooms, not more bedrooms.

There are also large properties planned for redevelopment north of Shady Grove, such as Lakeforest Mall, COMSAT and the Montgomery County Fairgrounds. These developments will not be "smart growth" without a Metro extension, or other rail service, and will not have the job component we need to also reduce the number and length of car trips in the corridor. The same goes for White Oak and Burtonsville.

A coordinated plan to address our moribund economy and failing, incomplete transportation system is needed. No such plan has come out of our current County Council.

Here's what we should be prioritizing today:


  • Study extending the Red Line to Clarksburg, including options for at-grade, elevated and cut-and-cover underground segments
  • Metro should connect to Lakeforest and COMSAT
  • Study of Metro extension from Silver Spring Metro to Burtonsville
  • Addition of third track to MARC Brunswick Line
  • Making Ride On bus service free
  • More business-friendly tax policy and regulations
  • More competitive state tax policies
  • Fully privatizing the County liquor monopoly, and allowing beer and wine sales at all grocery, drug and convenience stores
  • Coordinate timing of new business policies with zoning/sector plan updates that incentivize and favor commercial/corporate development (a.k.a. high-wage jobs) over residential housing
  • Planning and construction of long-delayed Midcounty Highway Extended (M-83 Highway Master Plan Alignment), with potential use for median/cut-and-cover simultaneous construction of rail line from Shady Grove Metro on relevant segments
  • Construction of equally-long-delayed new Potomac River crossing to Dulles Airport with trackbed for future Red Line extension to Silver Line in median, as a toll facility built by a private company
  • A concerted, focused effort on attracting aerospace, defense and tech corporate headquarters, and related research and manufacturing facilities (i.e. satellite and rocket assembly)
The Montgomery County Council isn't doing any of this. In fact, they're in the middle of a 10-day vacation. In February. 
Working hard, or hardly working?
In contrast, the Council-equivalents of our biggest competitors - Arlington, Fairfax, Loudoun and Prince William counties - are all meeting this week. It would be interesting if all local media - print, online, TV, radio - would join me in exposing the lazy work schedule of our self-proclaimed "full-time" slacker County Council.

Anyone who thinks we can dig ourselves out of this economic hole with a small-ball agenda by running empty BRT buses up and down, giving government contracts to small businesses, believing residential housing that generates more costs than revenue is the definition of "economic development," and patting ourselves on the back by adding the same STEM components to our schools that all of our competitors' school systems are also adding - or that it can be done under the leadership of our current County Council - is fooling themselves. 

Virginia has plenty of housing. But they also have plenty of jobs. Plenty of revenue, as a result. And they are making the big ticket investments to keep cleaning our clock for decades to come. Meanwhile, we're scaring every company away, have a structural budget deficit as far out as the projections go, are paying record high taxes, have massive debt, and steadily declining revenue even with a 9% tax hike several years ago. 

We can't go on like this.

Monday, January 27, 2020

Bar Louie closes Rockville, Wheaton Plaza locations

Just as nightlife in booming Washington, D.C. expands into new corners of the District, it continues to tank spectacularly in moribund Montgomery County. Bar Louie has closed in Rockville Town Square. As if that wasn't enough, Bar Louie also closed its newer location at Wheaton Plaza, which was in a very modern and new structure with prime proximity to the AMC Wheaton 9 cineplex. "Thanks for all the memories," read signs in the windows.
Having been at Rockville Town Square for many years, the closure reflects the drastic downturn the county has taken over the past decade, as the Montgomery County political cartel has seized all nine seats on the County Council. The fact that the Wheaton location exited the same weekend indicates that this was more than just the ongoing struggles at Federal Realty's Rockville Town Square, which has seen a mass exodus of many of its key tenants in recent years.
Montgomery County is in real trouble, folks. County revenue, not surprisingly, is severely declining with the failing economy and flight of the rich to lower-tax jurisdictions in the region. Nightlife took a catastrophic blow from the Council's disastrous "nighttime economy task force" debacle, which resulted in the closure of 18 nightspots in Bethesda alone, and was capped by several new Council policies that hit the bottom line of hospitality businesses hard. Not to mention the Council preserving and beefing up the County government liquor monopoly, instead of ending it as bar and restaurant owners have begged them to do for years.

More liquor money for Virginia and D.C. We're being led by very stupid people, folks.









Wednesday, January 22, 2020

Montgomery County fumbles Eli Lilly factory to North Carolina

Indianapolis residents now know what it feels like to live in Montgomery County. Just as moribund MoCo can't get one of its few remaining major companies - Lockheed - to locate its manufacturing facilities here, neither could Indy get hometown pharmaceutical giant Eli Lilly to build its new manufacturing facility in the Hoosier capital. Lilly is looking south instead, choosing Durham County, North Carolina's booming Research Triangle Park.

"We continue to grow North Carolina into a worldwide hub for the biotechnology industry," a jubilant North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper (D) said in a statement Tuesday.

Biotech and hospitality are the only two economic sectors in Montgomery County that even have a pulse these days, thanks to decisions made by wiser County leaders prior to the Montgomery County political cartel's seizure of the County Council in 2002 (today, the cartel controls all nine Council seats). But just days after the Washington Post reported once again that Montgomery County has fallen behind Prince George's County in job creation (while failing to report MoCo was also behind every other county in the region over the last decade in that department), Montgomery County's elected officials weren't able to score the biggest biotech get of the year so far - the Eli Lilly factory.

Not only did the County Council and economic development officials make no public campaign to attract Lilly, but their fumble also emphasizes how our inept leaders are squandering the biotech advantages their smarter, less corrupt predecessors left them at the turn of the century. North Carolina is catching up, as is Virginia. As MoCo officials continue to drop balls left and right, those and other states will soon surpass us.

North Carolina Commerce Secretary Tony Copeland correctly noted Tuesday that, "North Carolina is one of the nation’s leading centers for innovation in the life sciences." They also have two other things we don't: A friendly business climate, and superior infrastructure.

The Tar Heel state has the Research Triangle Park. Montgomery County was supposed to have a "Science City" in the I-270 corridor. Remember that?

Montgomery County elected officials couldn't even get that done. Of course, they never intended to. "Science City" was a total ruse perpetrated by the Council, and their developer sugar daddies, a decade ago. Sold to you as something like North Carolina's biotech park, that fakeout was merely a Trojan horse for more residential development.

Remember how Clarksburg, Germantown and Shady Grove were going to be booming job centers, with a Corridor Cities Transitway and expanded MARC service? None of that ever happened.

But - the housing all got built.

Jobs continued to divert to Northern Virginia, and I-270 just got more congested with all of the new housing approved by the Council without any new transportation infrastructure to support it. Heckuva job, Brownie!

Now, standing amidst the ashes of a "Science City" ghost town surrounded by stack-and-pack Soviet-style apartment blocs, the Council is saying the whole problem is...there wasn't enough housing built. LOL. [Insert cuckoo clock sound here].

You can't make this stuff up, folks.

What did we lose this week as a result?

462 new pharmaceutical manufacturing jobs, with an average salary above $72,000. 462 jobs are just a drop in the bucket given how stagnant and shrinking Montgomery County's economy is, but we're not in a position to pass any up in such a crisis. We should be, but are not, actively pursuing aerospace, biotech, and defense corporate headquarters, and their related research and manufacturing facilities.

North Carolina's Research Triangle Park's motto is, "Inspiring Bold Ideas."

The Montgomery County Council's is, "Lining our pockets with developer cash."

Our County's should be, "The Bedroom Community for the Booming Job Centers Elsewhere in Our Region."

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

Mayor & Council approve grant to keep Aronson, LLC in Rockville Town Center

Rockville Mayor Bridget Donnell Newton and City Council members voted unanimously last night to approve a $50,000 grant to accounting firm Aronson, LLC. The investment is designed to keep Aronson from moving their headquarters elsewhere, and to keep their employees in Town Center to support the restaurants in that area.