Isiah Leggett kicked off his third term as Montgomery County executive on Monday by focusing almost solely on what he’ll do to “dispel any myths” about the county’s unwelcoming business climate.
In a speech in Rockville to mark his inauguration, Leggett introduced a six-point economic plan that would bring an additional $30 million in tax breaks, create an independent county transit authority and further streamline the development approval process.
“Montgomery County will never shy away from competition as long as I am your county executive,” Leggett said. “Right here and now, we must dispel any myths about a lack of a welcoming business environment. I want us to usher in and foster a “culture of yes” when it comes to doing business in Montgomery County.”
County officials have long had to contend with the perception of Montgomery County as “business unfriendly,” particularly compared to neighboring jurisdictions such as Fairfax County.
Earlier this year, the county introduced the MOVE rental assistance program in an effort to attract small and mid-sized businesses to the county’s vacant office space. Leggett recently pitched a “development ombudsman” to help property owners navigate the county’s approval process for new buildings.
His six-point plan would include $30 million in tax abatements — called the BUILD program — to attract more companies to the county’s existing office space. Like much of the D.C. area, Montgomery County is having trouble filling office space in a down office climate. A little more than 13 percent of the county’s office space was vacant, according to recent Planning Department counts.
Leggett also will recommend the creation of an independent transit authority for Montgomery County, citing likely budget issues in Annapolis as a reason why the county must become more independent from state transportation agencies in its planning.
While he mentioned the progress of the county’s Rapid Transit Vehicle program and Purple Line light rail earlier in his speech, he didn’t specifically refer to any projects while outlining the transit authority.
On the development approval process, Leggett said he’s “ready to commit in this coming year to a timeline that guarantees that if you come to us with a project that is ready, we will turn your plan around in 30 days.”
In July, the Council’s Office of Legislative Oversight found that for major projects that require all three levels of review, it could take three years to get from initial proposal to final approval.
Leggett also proposed creating a high-speed fiber network called Ultra Montgomery to allow for faster internet connections, not unlike an idea for gigabit internet proposed by former County Executive Doug Duncan and Councilmember Hans Riemer.