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County Launches Business Connect Program in Germantown

Montgomery County business owners and entrepreneurs in the UpCounty will be getting additional support through the new Business Connect program launched by County Executive Marc Elrich at the UpCounty Regional Services Center.

Business Connect is a business assistance hub where small business owners can get information, support, and training to start or grow their companies. The Germantown location was selected to make it more convenient for thousands of UpCounty businesses to connect with County services. Assistance is available by appointment. The UpCounty Regional Services Center is located at 12900 Middlebrook Road.

“Growing the economy is one of my priorities, and I have also made a commitment to ensure that services are delivered fairly throughout the County,” said Elrich. “Piloting this effort in the UpCounty Regional Services Center addresses both of those objectives. This program provides counseling, classes, and connections to local business owners in their own communities to help them succeed and grow.”

Elrich was joined by Maryland Commerce Deputy Secretary Ben Wu, and Councilmembers Craig Rice and Sidney Katz for the launch of the new program on Wednesday, May 8, during Small Business Week. Results from the UpCounty pilot will be used to design a Countywide Business Connect program available at all of the regional services centers over the next year. However, the program will be permanently housed in Germantown.

Elrich and Katz have been doing a listening tour of the County to speak with business owners and managers to discover what the County can do to improve the business Climate; The 4Business Listening Sessions will make a stop in Germantown on Monday, June 10 at the UpCounty Regional Services Center at 7:00 pm.

“This is a great resource,” said Marilyn Balcombe, President, and CEO of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce. “People come to the Chamber all the time that want to start or expand a business and need help doing that. We don’t really provide that in-depth service. This is a great resource for us. I can see us referring people to this location to find people to hold their hands through the process, and help them write a business plan, help them look at strategic growth, or help identify the best marketing tools. We just didn’t have the resources in the UpCounty. We intend to be a full partner with this program.”

“Montgomery County’s new Business Connect program is a terrific complement to the state-level efforts to transform Maryland’s business climate,” said Maryland Commerce Deputy Secretary Ben Wu. “This innovative program shows that Montgomery County is working hard to make sure the government provides great customer service and ensures that Maryland is a welcoming, supportive place to launch and grow a business.”

The Montgomery County Business Solutions Group, which includes the small business navigator and business liaison officers, is working on site at the UpCounty Regional Services Center. “We want businesses to know that assistance is available throughout the County,” said Fletcher. “We will start with offering training and navigation and look forward to hearing from the business community about what other types of services would be helpful.”

“We have got to remove the pain-points of businesses doing business with Montgomery County,” said Assistant Chief Administrative Officer Jerome Fletcher. “The frustration, the lack of response time, and how they are interacting with the government — we need to fix that first. Customer service first and foremost. Second of all, we need to increase the way that Montgomery County shares opportunities that are available for our businesses in Germantown and everywhere else. If a business doesn’t know about it, and we don’t communicate to businesses, how can we possibly expect that business to bid and compete for it, and grow your company? The third thing is that procurement cannot be a barrier. It can’t be an impediment to business. It has to be transparent and manageable. It has to be done in a way that upper leadership cares about the residents we are trying to impact.”

Business Connect will offer workshops on County processes such as procurement and permitting and will work with local chambers of commerce to provide informative “lunch and learn” sessions from subject matter experts.

One of the main ways Germantown will be impacted by this program is the housing of the County’s Small Business Navigator, Judy Stevenson in Germantown. “When a small business has a question or concern, she will be here to answer them,” said Fletcher. “She will be still be servicing the entire County, but having our staff outside of Rockville and located directly in a Regional Services Center is going to mean a lot.” Stevenson’s office had been located in the Executive Office Building in Rockville, and now it will be permanently located in Germantown.

Small businesses can expect services such as classes, workshops, and seminars, and there will also be access to one-on-one counseling which will allow businesses that want to review a business plan, or marketing plan will be able to speak to someone and get advice on taking their business to the next level, said Stevenson.

“We are offering training classes and seminars at the UpCounty Regional Services Center,” she said. “Up until now when businesses need training all of the resources were in Rockville and south, there was nothing UpCounty. There has been a lack of services in the UpCounty, and that is one reason we are starting here. This is a commitment the County Executive has made to making more services available to the UpCounty.”

“The services offered at the UpCounty Regional Center will be done with our partners, the County is not creating a whole new division that will recreate services that already exist,” she said. “The third thing is we will provide actual connections to County departments. We have 13 or 14 departments that interact with the business community on a regular basis. It will allow our Office of Emergency Management to help small businesses create a disaster plan. The Office of Procurement can come up and talk about how to get a contract with the County, and how to register for the procurement program, or the Permitting Department can come talk to businesses about zoning and use. These are really important things to businesses. We have a lot of interactions with the business community where we can do a better job to help them understand how to comply with our regulations.”

“The County Executive is hearing what the UpCounty has been saying for a while,” said Balcombe, “that we need more services. We need more recognition. We need to be heard. I think it is fantastic that the program will be housed in Germantown.”

For information and resources related to starting and growing a business in Montgomery County, visit the Montgomery County Business Portal.

When visiting the Montgomery County Business Portal, click on Training Workshops (at the top right of the website) to register for these upcoming classes at the UpCounty Regional Services Center:

• Wednesday, May 29 - Legal Risk Management for Business Owners, 10:00 am to noon (Room B)

• Thursday, May 30 - Montgomery County Procurement Programs and State of Maryland Certifications, 9:30 am to 12:30 pm (Room A)

• Tuesday, June 4 - How to Launch Your Food Venture, 10:00 am to noon (Room B)

• Tuesday, June 4 - One-on-One Business Counseling, 1:00 pm to 4:00 pm (Room 1)

To book an appointment with the County’s Business Solutions Group, email bizportal@montgomerycountymd.gov.

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