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Washington metro area becoming economic driver for Maryland

Ben Wu, president and CEO of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation.

According to local leaders, if Maryland’s economy fully recovers from the chaos inflicted by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Washington metro must lead the way.

“The old perception of Maryland was that its economic power resided in Baltimore … clearly in the past several decades, and punctuated more so by the pandemic, the Capital Region is the economic power of the state,” Ben Wu, president, and CEO of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation, said

The Capital Region is home to two of the three most populous counties in Maryland. Those capital area jurisdictions, including Prince George’s, Calvert, Charles, St. Mary’s and Montgomery counties, account for more than half of the state’s Gross Domestic Product.

Montgomery County, the state’s largest county by population, alone delivers 25% of the state’s GDP, a measure of the value added by the production and goods and services in a given area.

So far, Montgomery County is pacing the state in terms of economic recovery, with its unemployment rate in September dropping to nearly 5% after recording a record 8.6% unemployment in early 2020.

“We’ve been one of the few jurisdictions in the country that have been able to grow jobs,” Wu said.

Development officials attribute that rebound mainly to the county’s position as a life sciences hub, one of a few industries where COVID-19 has been a boon for business.

“At the height of the pandemic, as the country and the government, and the world looked for COVID-19 vaccines … we had $8 billion invested in Montgomery County life science companies,” Wu said.

So far, in 2021, 76 companies in Montgomery County secured more than $18 billion in private investment and venture capital funding in the first three quarters of 2021, a record pace.

It’s not just Montgomery’s life science firms attracting substantial investment.

Xometry, the maker of artificial intelligence-enabled manufacturing equipment, raised $302.5 million in its initial public offering.

The most significant investment in terms of dollars resulted from Microsoft acquiring the local firm ZeniMax, the parent company of Bethesda Game Studios, for $8.12 billion.

While Montgomery County has provided a sizable spark for the Washington metro and statewide, the region’s business climate continues to face its share of headwinds.

The region is not only home to Marriott International Inc., one of Maryland’s few Fortune 500 companies, but half of the nation’s real estate investment trusts, or REITs, with hospitality holdings call the Washington area home.

These firms continue to grapple with the fallout from the pandemic that has created what industry analysts describe as an unprecedented crisis.

Small and medium-sized businesses in the region also continue to scuffle along as they continue to adjust to the only certainty for firms during the pandemic: uncertainty.

“The [professional] service industry seems to be doing fine but the retail, the restaurants and the lodging… to come out of nearly two years of this, are what I’m concerned about,” said Marji Graf, president of the Rockville Chamber of Commerce.

This article is featured in The Daily Record's Doing Business in Maryland 2022 that was inserted in the Thursday, December 30, 2021 issue of The Daily Record.

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