PIC MC, located on Montgomery College’s Germantown Campus, is an integrated academic, business, and research campus with locational opportunities where biotech, cybersecurity, and technology companies can co-locate. Bill Keller, Senior Vice President and Regional Investment Manager at Wells Fargo Private Management; Doug Wrenn, Principal at Rodgers Consulting, Inc.; and Tom Rogers, CEO at Vendor Centric, sat down with @MC to discuss business development in Germantown and the I-270 corridor.
@MC: What kind of growth do you see in the county and why?
Tom: From my perspective, Montgomery County is growing constantly – both in terms of the people who are living here and the things such as transit and mixed use. Our office, for example, is in Rio Center over in Gaithersburg, and the level of development that’s been happening in Rio Center, and now next door in Crown with all the mixed-use building, is unbelievable. This side of the county has been growing tremendously. There are a lot of folks coming in to live here, but we’re also seeing, as a result of these new residents, business growth as well. From what I see of the people we work with in our shared workspace in Rio, people who live here don’t want to have to drive into DC to work every day. We’re seeing small businesses come in and take advantage of the incubators and the shared workspaces to help with that work-life balance. But we’re still close enough to DC, Tysons, and all the other destinations that it makes sense to live and work in Montgomery County.
Bill: I’m in the wealth management business, and it’s important to know where that wealth was created. We opened an office in Montgomery County about two-and-a-half years ago. Our thinking was there is so much wealth creation resulting from so much business creation here in the county that we needed to be here. It’s been so successful that we’re in the process of expanding our presence with increased office space and additional associates. A lot of that is a direct response to the wealth that is created here.
Doug: Let me pick up on what Tom mentioned about work-life balance, and bring it back to PIC MC. I think one of the real opportunities we have is that so many people live close to the campus. If Germantown were incorporated, it would be the third-largest city in the state. So, why not have employment opportunities nearby? That’s why PIC MC is so attractive: the proximity to the workforce.
@MC: As a trend, how does the location factor into how developers are creating that attractive environment?
Tom: I’m in professional services, and as I think about our clients and my colleagues, I think the evolution of how folks work now has changed so dramatically that you don’t physically have to be on-site to do the work. We’re seeing a lot more people work remotely. We’re seeing a lot of cloud-based software applications, where all you need is a browser and an internet connection. I think there are about 40 businesses in the shared workspace environment we’re in, and it’s evident that people want the ability to work closer to home and not have a big commute. I think absolutely that the work-life balance is important. I live in Germantown, and when I left public accounting, our office was in Bethesda. I moved our office up to the Rockville/Gaithersburg area specifically so that I could spend more time going to my kids’ events and school events. To work and live in the same general area is very important.
There’s not really a flagship anything in Germantown, so PIC MC can grow and evolve into a big focal point for the Germantown community.
It can serve as a hub over time for the students and the businesses and have a mixed-use base as well, and that would be a very cool thing to do.
Doug: I agree completely with Tom. It’s purposeful that we’ve located here in Germantown because it’s allowed my colleagues more convenience, housing choices, and lifestyle choices. By moving up the I-270 corridor, we’re just more accessible to our employees.
Bill: I think the evolution of the I-270 corridor is happening in Germantown today, and we’re seeing a county in transition. It’s an educated workforce, and I think the younger workforce is more in tune with their lifestyle. Having a hub for these folks in Germantown could really be something special.
Doug: I think Germantown needs a stronger identity. I like the idea of having a flagship entity that would be recognized nationally, and I think PIC MC has that potential.
@MC: What about access to the educated workforce? Is that an advantage?
Bill: It’s easy to pull in the high-level brain power you might need from around the globe, but it’s harder to find the people with the practical talent. I think that is where Montgomery College and PIC MC can really help. We’ve frequently talked about the work that was being performed on the benches of biotech firms that could have been handled by someone with a non-advanced degree, but it was being handled by someone with an advanced degree because the companies didn’t have the skilled workforce available. They had to have people with doctorate degrees do work that wasn’t the best use of their education and experience. That’s what’s exciting about this opportunity;
We have lots of brain power here, but we have a shortage of folks with the practical application knowledge. That’s where we can add real value with PIC MC.
Tom: The county and the whole DC area is super-educated, but not everyone needs PhDs and master’s degrees. Thinking back to conversations we’ve had with the PIC MC Board, the county has a real need to fill jobs that could quite capably be filed by people with two-year degrees and specialized training. One of the things that excites me about PIC MC is the ability to bring companies onto the campus, engage them to understand their workforce needs, and how those jobs could be filled by students coming up through Montgomery College. There’s the potential to allow them input on the kind of curricula that they think is important, maybe provide some of the adjunct faculty to do some of the training. You could offer internships, too. With this approach, when the students finish their programs, they’re not looking six months for a job because they’ve got a job right away. That’s why, with PIC MC, you can create a win-win for everybody.
@MC: What’s your elevator speech pitch for PIC MC and our area?
I would tell a company that there’s no other location that can offer the confluence of academic, business, healthcare, and technology that Montgomery College and PIC MC has.
Combine that with a place that has intrinsic beauty, and a wooded area that will be preserved. It’s this combination of physical attributes and economic opportunity that I don’t think can be matched anywhere in the county.
@MC: What’s your crystal ball vision for our area’s growth and PIC MC?
Doug: When I think about the future of our area, and how higher education will serve as an anchor for helping to shape that future, I think the two-year colleges will be more important than the four-year colleges. And I think technology will be interwoven with that, so much so that, if I were a company, I would co-locate with a two-year college. Looking at our future, considering the relationship between the academic and for-profit business, that relationship will be more important than ever.
Bill: This county, and the DC region, is unlike any other. The brainpower we have, because of all the academic research, which is driven by the federal government, is second to none. With all of this brain power and all the diversity, all of the surrounding businesses are lifted up, too. It’s like the saying that ‘a rising tide floats all boats,’ and the boats are academia, like Montgomery College, research, and businesses. That’s what drives this county, and you don’t find this in other places. It’s what makes our area special.