Category Archives: Economy

Banking on a Better Future

On June 6, 2011, I was honored to join the Mayor in declaring that June 2011 is “Bank on Gaithersburg Month” in the City.   Bank on Gaithersburg is an innovative package of interconnected programs and services designed to help our residents — especially those who are “unbanked” or “underbanked” — attain financial security through accessible banking products, free tax assistance,  and free financial education workshops.  It is one of my signature initiatives, proposed after I attended the National League of Cities conference in 2008 and learned about the first “Bank On” program in San Francisco.  You can read more about Bank on Gaithersburg, how it works, and why it benefits not only the participating consumers but also the local economy, community financial institutions, and the government, by reading this guest blog that I authored last year for Maryland Politics Watch.

The program is one of only eight nationwide to be awarded a grant from the National League of Cities, and it has been featured at the Maryland Municipal League’s conference in October, where I spoke to a packed house of municipal officials from throughout the state.  In a nutshell, Bank on Gaithersburg, established in September 2009, seeks to help residents access mainstream financial services, safeguard their money, and identify opportunities for future asset building. The program focuses on increasing the availability of no-cost starter accounts, raising awareness about the benefits of account ownership, encouraging the opening of accounts, and providing free financial education.  In showcasing the program during the month of June, city staff will focus on promotion, outreach, and events.  Look for information about Bank on Gaithersburg presented via events (flea markets, farmers’ markets, open houses, classes), signs, publications, the City’s website and TV station, bus stops, letters, brochures, and other displays.

Ryan presents Bank on Gaithersburg during the "Big Ideas Forum" at the Maryland Municipal League's fall conference.

On May 24, 2011 the Montgomery County Community Action Board awarded Gaithersburg the Henry L. Dixon, Jr. Award for the work that Bank on Gaithersburg is doing to help low-income residents.  It has the potential to ripple outward to benefit the local housing market, local retail establishments, small businesses, educational institutions, and many other entities that rely on financially secure consumers or on loans from banks and credit unions.  When people are saving more, they can rely on a nest egg that makes them less likely to default on their mortgages, or run out of money for college tuition, or require food assistance from the government.  And with a little extra cash saved up, they can spend some of it at local restaurants and stores.  And the more that people deposit into local banks, the more leverage the banks have to free up credit for small business loans.  In recent months, the county, state, and federal governments have all taken steps toward establishing their own “Bank On”-style programs, but Gaithersburg was among the first!

When we added the Volunteer Income Tax Assistance component to the initiative last year, Gaithersburg instantly became the most successful VITA site in all of Montgomery County in its very first year of operation, providing free income tax assistance to more than 700 people, representing 37% of all VITA clients county-wide — due in no small measure to the excellent outreach from Bank on Gaithersburg.  Thanks to Bank on Gaithersburg, 88% of taxpayers using the Gaithersburg VITA service had their tax refunds direct-deposited in local financial institutions, where their money is insured and can earn interest.  Eighty-nine percent of the VITA clients county-wide received money from the Earned Income Tax Credit, which they might have otherwise forfeited if they hadn’t submitted the paperwork.  The total tax returns for all four VITA sites in Montgomery County amounted to just over $7 million.  That is real money that can go back into people’s savings and back into the local economy, especially when considering that 37% of the VITA clients are located in or near Gaithersburg.

Bank on Gaithersburg may have been my idea, but it took the dedication and hard work of city staff, our partner financial institutions, and our partner nonprofits to make it happen.  So I want to again thank all of them for turning my vision into a reality.  I hope you take the time to learn about this innovative and valuable initiative during “Bank on Gaithersburg Month” in June.  It is the creative exploration of new initiatives like Bank on Gaithersburg that makes our City so cutting-edge in the way we govern, lead, and serve our residents and businesses.  I ask for your vote in November to ensure that we continue this successful philosophy.   If reelected, I will keep exploring new ideas everyday; you can bank on it!

Economic Development

We all know the old addage that you have to spend money to make money.  Last year, as cities and counties throughout the nation were still reeling from the Great Recession, the Mayor & City Council of Gaithersburg made a rather unconventional decision to significantly beef up our funding of Economic Development initiatives.  The logic was simple:  At some point the economy is going to start turning around, and Gaithersburg wants to be prepared to be among the first to attract businesses and redevelopment opportunities, which will in turn grow our tax base and put us on a more secure long-term fiscal footing, and give us the ability to return to the level of service we provided to our residents and businesses before we were forced to make painful cuts.  We wanted to send a clear signal to the world that we are open for business.  Evidence is mounting that the decision has paid large dividends.

Notwithstanding the lingering effects of a global economy struggling to emerge from recession, our very assertive and forward-looking approach to economic development has positioned Gaithersburg at the forefront of recovery.  We are making good on our commitment to spur a long-awaited revitalization of Olde Towne with approved plans, and even visible construction progress, on “game-changing” projects like Archstone, as well as Summit Center, the Y Site, and the Fishman site.  The new apartments at 355 and West Deer Park Road are filling up at a steady clip. We are also very excited about the construction of the new Gaithersburg High School, which the City has worked hard to realize along with our community partners, scheduled to break ground on May 26, 2011.  We also fought for, and won, an expansion of the State-designated Enterprize Zone which creates tax incentives for businesses to locate in Olde Towne.

Ryan and his colleagues at the groundbreaking of Archstone in Olde Towne in January 2011.

Beyond Olde Towne, we are seeing movement at Crown Farm, Watkins Mill, and Parklands — several cutting-edge new “smart growth” projects that are mixed-use, walkable, and transit-oriented.  There is no denying that a LOT is happening in Gaithersburg, and that we are far ahead of the pack regionally and nationally in terms of municipal economic recovery.  We are not out of the woods yet, but all of this activity in Gaithersburg is a positive sign that our aggressive economic development strategy is working.

But development projects are only one piece of the puzzle.  Another key element of the equation is the growth of high-quality jobs amidst a robust business climate.  Using incentives funded by our Economic Development Toolbox program, we are seeing an incredible wave of high-tech and healthcare company expansions in Gaithersburg.  At our City Council meeting on May 2, 2011, my friend Maryland House Majority Leader Kumar Barve spoke of the high level of competence of our council in managing the city and joked that it seemed like a new biotech company is opening every other day in Gaithersburg!  Indeed, we had a ribbon cutting for Noble Life Sciences in Gaithersburg the same day.  Noble Life joins several other cutting-edge biotech firms that have chosen to locate in Gaithersburg in recent months, including Integrated BioTherapeutics and Zyngenia.  Some of the credit for attracting these great businesses belongs to the Gaithersburg Accelerator, an innovative public-private partnership between the City of Gaithersburg and Scheer Partners.  The Accelerator offers affordable lab space and facilities for “second stage” life sciences companies that have outgrown incubator programs.  Larger companies like MedImmune also continue to grow and add more high-quality jobs to the City.  Geospatial imaging company MDA Information Systems, Inc., is moving to Gaithersburg too, bringing hundreds of good jobs to the City.  Kaiser Permanente is also moving a large array of state-of-the-art medical services to fill 200,000 square feet of space at Watkins Mill.

Smaller retail businesses are also blossoming around the City.  Gaithersburg’s first chocolate factory — Spagnvola — opened in the Kentlands with a fabulous ribbon cutting on April 2.  In recent months the Kentlands has also welcomed Panera, Coal Fire pizza, Bark!, Alliage Salon & Spa, Pinky & Pepe’s Grape Escape, 16 Handles frozen yogurt (with two locations — one in Kentlands and one in Washingtonian Center), and others.  Elsewhere in the City, businesses like the Slice of Olde Towne pizza shop, which opened in 2010, are thriving. It’s no wonder Money Magazine/CNN said that “Gaithersburg’s ability to attract start-up companies has allowed it to rebound from the recession better than many other places. ”

I am running for re-election to continue the leadership and the policies that have helped foster this renaissance of economic activity in the wake of the recession.  Gaithersburg is on the map as a prime destination for businesses large and small, bringing jobs and contributing to our high quality of life, due in no small part to our laser-like focus on economic development.  But our work is not done, and I ask for your support so I can help lead the City to build upon the many successes we are already seeing.