County officials celebrate launch of Bethesda’s small-business assistance program

County officials celebrate launch of Bethesda’s small-business assistance program

Programs started at Regional Services Center in November

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Montgomery County officials celebrated the official launch of the Business Connect program's arrival in Bethesda

Photo by Dan Schere

Montgomery County officials on Friday celebrated the official launch of the county’s newest small-business assistance program location in Bethesda.

Last year, the county launched Business Connect, a series of classes, trainings and individual counseling sessions for small businesses. The programs are held in regional services centers throughout the county and are managed by the Montgomery County Business Solutions Group, part of the county executive’s office.

Friday marked the official launch of the program at the Bethesda-Chevy Chase Regional Services Center, although there was a “soft opening” in November, Judy Stephenson, the county’s small business navigator, said in an interview.

“This is an important step. We set out to try to deal with some issues with Montgomery County’s reputation and this is part of [improving] it,” County Executive Marc Elrich told attendees Friday.

Montgomery County has long faced criticism that it is a harder place to do business than other places in the greater Washington, D.C., region.

The Stephen S. Fuller Institute at George Mason University recently found that Prince George’s County outpaced Montgomery in job growth between 2013 and 2018. During that time, the institute found, Prince George’s County added 21,236 jobs compared to Montgomery’s 19,540.

Elrich, since becoming county executive a little more than a year ago, has conducted a series of “charettes,” or planning meetings, to hear concerns from business leaders.

“We’re looking at everything from permitting to our incentive programs,” he said.

Elrich added that he just signed a package of incentives for Arena Pharmaceuticals, which he said he expects to bring 500 jobs to the county.

“We are serious about bringing business to Montgomery County and I get tired of looking at the headlines about other places. It’s time to start creating our own headlines,” he said.

Kelly Schulz, Maryland’s secretary of commerce, said she is optimistic that Montgomery County will eliminate “bureaucratic red tape,” like the state has in creating 150,000 jobs in the five years since Gov. Larry Hogan took ofice .

“That is the blueprint that has shown success for us,” she said. “So what has happened in the last five years? We have shown that our climate survey for businesses has doubled the number of businesses that think Maryland is open for business. That’s big.”

Ben Wu, who was hired as the CEO of the public-private nonprofit Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation in December, pointed to Marriott and WeddingWire as companies in Bethesda that are helping to drive the local economy.

He said the completion of the light rail Purple Line, which will connect Bethesda and New Carrollton, in a few years will help increase economic development.

“We’re all here for one key reason, and that’s to underscore our commitment to increasing economic opportunities in our county,” he said.

Dan Schere can be reached at daniel.schere@bethesdamagazine.com

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