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Land use and transportation planning are the responsibility of local government, but economic changes at the regional, national and even global levels are forcing us to adapt to forces outside of our control – including automation, international trade, and even competition for natural resources as basic as the sand used to mix the concrete in large apartment and office buildings.

Among the biggest changes is what some economists have called the trend toward a “winner-take-all-economy.” This is the idea that wealth, talent and innovation are increasingly being concentrated in a small number of places, typically large metro areas anchored by cities capable of attracting people and capital from around the world. Nationally we can see this trend in the GDP of the top 25 metro areas. In 2017, these metro areas accounted for more than half of the US’s $20.2 trillion GDP.

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

The winners in this group include the DC metropolitan area, which covers Montgomery County as well as the other close-in suburbs of Washington such as Fairfax, Prince George’s, and Arlington. A recent study by McKinsey, a leading management consulting firm, found that these metros were responsible for all of the net job growth in the country since the economic meltdown of 2008.

Each metro area has its own winners and losers. In Maryland, for example, Montgomery County really is the economic engine, generating 25 percent of the state’s economic output. Baltimore City ranks a distant second with just 15 percent.


Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis


The picture in the DMV, however, looks a little different. Montgomery is in third place behind the District of Columbia and Fairfax/Falls Church/Fairfax City.

* Falls Church City and Fairfax City are incorporated in Fairfax County, VA. Manassas City and Manassas park are incorporated into Prince William County, VA.
Source: Bureau of Economic Analysis

Montgomery County is more than just a bedroom community, and I think reports of our economic weakness are overstated, but this graph shows we need to focus on our economic role – and our competitiveness – with the region. It’s clear that the Silver Line gave the area around Tysons a shot in the arm, and while Amazon’s decision to locate its second headquarters in Arlington is good for the entire region, we want to make sure we are attracting the best jobs – not just the warehouses, fulfillment centers, and back office functions for employers who are growing in the region.

The central challengeas we begin looking at the General Planis to set the right land use, housing and transportation policies to keep winning new employers and employees. As the Amazon HQ2 and the Marriott relocation from Rock Spring to Bethesda demonstrated, employers want to be where employees want to be, and that increasingly means places that are walkable (and ideally have access to high quality transit) have a mix of uses (to support activities during the evening as well as during the work day), and are planned with attention to design.

Another essential element of attracting the workforce that will attract employers is housing. Virginia’s real estate market is already skyrocketing in anticipation of Amazon’s influx of jobs. Some of the bump may be the product of speculative excess, but at least part of the price spike is likely to last. Montgomery is in some ways well positioned to compete for residents and jobs post-HQ2 due to our excellent schools, parks, and other services. The key will be ensuring that we have affordable options and a variety of housing at all income levels. That means more “missing middle” housing options, such as duplexes and triplexes, more housing in walkable neighborhoods, and investments in transit.

2 Responses to “Montgomery County Is (Literally) Well-Positioned for the Future – But Will We Take Advantage of the Opportunity?”

  1. Brian lev

    The county needs to take a good, hard look at infrastructure and density if it wants to be competitive. Many major roads are jammed to a near-standstill at rush hour, Rockville Pike is a mess on weekends, many smaller 2-lane roads are beyond their saturation point for several hours every day, and builders don’t have to pay much attention to the county’s “Master Plan” if they don’t want to. Major commuter routes like Georgia Avenue have long segments where the only alternative routes in case of a road closure are very small neighborhood side streets, many of which are winding and/or only run parallel for a few blocks (I once spent almost 2 hours on a normally 20-minute trip when emergency utility work closed Georgia Ave north of Wheaton and was later told I actually did better than some co-workers stuck in the same backup). The Metro parking lots from Rockville north are often full, while both Ride-On and Metrobus are usually “three buses at the same time” or “nothing in sight” for long periods. Moving farther out from the Silver Spring/Wheaton area, road construction has not kept pace with development, leaving many 2-lane roads to come to a near standstill every morning, every evening, and most midday lunchtimes. Large swathes of what was scenic woods & farmlands are in the process of becoming large housing developments but public transportation and the road network are not expanding to support those developments. Bike lanes are usually an afterthought, with many fragmented into segments sometimes just a few hundred feet long separated by long stretches of overburdened roads that have no sidewalks, shoulders, etc. (e.g., Norbeck Road between Georgia Ave & Layhill Road). Top all this off with the somehow “unsolveable” disparity in quality between various schools, and it becomes obvious that several problems need to be addressed if the county expects to move up in that list rather than down.

  2. Bob Buchanan

    Yes, the County is well positioned and has the opportunity to distinguish itself in this very dynamic region. Until we are willing to undertake those big, bold initiatives to address unmet housing needs, however, we will not come close to realizing our potential. Housing production, mix of residential product, pricing, and connectivity between where we live and work are deterrents to attracting and retaining that highly skilled workforce that has made us so unique.