Quick Transition in Economic Development Leadership Encouraged

Quick Transition in Economic Development Leadership Encouraged

Business groups say next CEO needs track record in attracting companies, marketing

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David Petr

Bethesda Beat File Photo

Montgomery County’s business and economic leaders say they want a fast transition to a new leader for the Montgomery County Economic Corp. following Monday’s announcement that CEO David Petr would step down in September when his three-year-term ends.

Petr took over the economic development agency after it was established as a public-private partnership that replaced the county’s Department of Economic Development. Previously, Holly Sears Sullivan had served as CEO of a supplemental private organization known as the Montgomery County Business Development Corp. Sullivan resigned  in 2016 to take a job with Amazon.

The economic development corporation has come under scrutiny recently in the wake of reports that the county is behind neighboring jurisdictions in Northern Virginia in expanding the tax base and diversifying the job base. A report from the Stephen S. Fuller Institute last month found that Montgomery and Frederick counties had created 4,700  jobs in fiscal 2018 caused alarm among County Council members.

Council member Craig Rice said he worries about a gap of several months in the economic development department’s top position, because it could create more difficult in helping move the county forward.

“It took a while for us to find a replacement for Holly Sears Sullivan when she left. So from that perspective, to have the leading entity in charge of creating economic development for this county not have a leader for a significant period of time is concerning to me,” he said.

The decision to appoint a replacement for Petr rests with the corporation’s board of directors, but Rice said the council plans to “impact a certain level of impetus on the board” to make sure an appointment is made swiftly, Rice said.

“Typically directors who are leaving are not implementing new policies and trying to move us forward. They’re trying to keep the ship stable. And so that’s what’s concerning,” he said.

Rice said he hopes the next economic development head will be committed to expanding the county’s economy beyond the biotechnology industry.

Petr did not return calls seeking comment. A single-page announcement released Monday morning said he would “be relocating to Texas for family reasons.”

Gigi Godwin, CEO of the Montgomery County Chamber of Commerce, said she respects Petr’s decision because “family comes first,” but that finding a replacement in a short period will be a challenge.

“Economic development is harder than it looks. It’s a long game and it takes a long time for things to happen and you have to flesh out opportunities. You can’t tell the world what you’re up to all the time,” she said.

Godwin said her organization advocated for the creation of an agency that was independent from the county 10 years ago.

“We wanted the county to be able to hire a very well-experienced economic development professionals. People who did that for a living and would do it for a sustained period of time, and not change with political changes that happened to be at the county executive or County Council level,” she said.

For the next CEO, Godwin said she hopes Petr’s successor will have an “appreciation for marketing” along with experience in business. Greater Silver Spring Chamber of Commerce CEO Jane Redicker felt similarly.

“I think the MCEDC CEO needs to be someone with a really strong background in economic development and with a strong record of bringing more businesses to the community,” she said.

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

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