Montgomery County will need to shift its focus toward housing and job training to allow for its growing economy, an economist told the Montgomery County Council on Tuesday.
The county economy, now at $69.5 billion, is forecasted to grow by $26.5 billion
over the next 10 years, said Stephen Fuller, director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University, on Tuesday.
"His emphasis on housing and a trained work force really caught everyone's
attention," Councilwoman Nancy Floreen (D-at large) of Garrett Park said after Fuller's presentation. "In terms of infrastructure, we have been focusing on transportation to support economic growth and he downplayed that."
Thus far, that focus on transportation may not be working. Suburban Maryland has hasn’t shown much growth in terms of the regional economy over the past 40 years.
While Northern Virginia has grown to account for 46 percent of the gross regional
product (up from 25 percent in 1970), Maryland has remained steady at just more than 30 percent. Fairfax County has seen an economic growth of 132.5 percent, while Montgomery County has grown only 87.3 percent between 1990 and 2010.
Jobs are expected to grow 19.6 percent over the decade, but the population is
likely to grow 11.2 percent, Fuller said. The county will not have a labor force large enough to accommodate the growth without changes. Jobs follow the people, Fuller observed, an idea that’s contrary to the more common outlook of people following the jobs.
Residents will need to be educated and prepared for the coming jobs, he said, which will likely be in government and in education and health.
Fuller said research showed an "encore generation" where older resident re-enter
the work force after retirement, which may help the county to fill vacant jobs.
These workers will need a place to live. Fuller said the county will need twice as
many multifamily houses as single-family homes—at the least—and that families with an income of less than $50,000 will need 42 percent of those homes.
"I think the most difficult part for us has always been, and will continue to be,
insuring that there is adequate housing that is affordable to our work force," Floreen said. "It is difficult to find rents and home prices that are affordable in a community so close to our nation's capital. We've always said that we were for affordable housing but saying that and doing it is another thing."
Branding is also key to success, Fuller said. Just as advertising executives use the aerodynamic qualities of a golf club to justify its price, Fuller suggested that the county better advertise returns on taxes such as quality of living and education.
"We’re a county of a million residents, and the reason why is that this is a great place to live and work," said Councilmember Craig Rice (D-District 2) of Germantown. "We need to be true to ourselves, know what our strong points are, build off the successes that we’ve been able to garner up to this point."
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