Saturday, December 05, 2009

Bob Jepson Becomes Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber Chair

Washington Adventist Hospital super-lobbyist Bob Jepson has become the new Chair of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce. Following are his remarks on his appointment, which include a detailed analysis of the economic challenges facing Montgomery County.


Opening Comments
It is great to be with you this evening. I thoroughly enjoy interacting with the board, staff and members of the Gaithersburg-Germantown Chamber of Commerce, a pragmatic organization that through the years has been, and is, honorably and consistently supportive of the basic principle that business and jobs are necessary for creating a healthy, vibrant and sustainable community.

I join you in honoring the service of Allen DeLeon, a business owner who has done much for the chamber and the community over the years. He is a widely recognized expert within our community and at the state level for his expertise and advocacy for his profession, accounting. If any of you have questions about combined reporting, he’s the expert on that issue. Thank you Allen, for serving the chamber all these years and your careful stewardship of the Chamber’s resources.

I also wish to highlight the work of our great chamber staff, Laura Rowles, who is fun to work with and the incomparable Marilyn Balcombe, the face, heart and soul of the chamber. Few people get as much done in a day as Marilyn and she makes it very easy to serve the chamber. We are very fortunate for her commitment, honesty, tact & advocacy.

Challenge and Opportunity
Tonight, we face a challenge and an opportunity.

The problem is a stubbornly persistent weak economy that has stifled economic development, reversed job growth and made it difficult for many businesses to simply tread water much less expand and thrive. Compounding this challenge is an environment in the County and State that has not always been friendly to business and economic development. The link between vibrant businesses and the general well-being of our larger community, the link between an expanding jobs base and the ability to provide services residents need and want, has not always been appreciated.

Defining Reality
In defining the reality of the challenges we face, here are a few statistics worth noting.

In comparison to six of our local regional competitors – Prince Georges County, Fairfax County, Arlington County, Alexandria City, the District of Columbia, and Loudon County -- we are falling behind.

Data for 2001 to 2008 per the US Census Bureau, the Bureau of Labor Statistics and various County/City websites shows the following:

• Population – Montgomery County, with 950,000, is 2nd only in population to Fairfax with 1,015,000; since 2001 we have added nearly 56,000 residents to our community while Fairfax County has added about 31,000 residents.
• Job Creation – Montgomery County is next to last in the region in job growth, adding only 7,800 jobs. By contrast, Fairfax County added nearly 43,000 jobs. This is a noteworthy disparity in job growth and population growth.
• Totals Wages Growth and average annual pay –Montgomery County has only the 3rd largest total wages in the region with Fairfax leading Montgomery County by $13 Billion and our growth in wages and average household ranks 4th out of 7 in the region.

We can change this trend, but first we have to define reality, and the reality is that this trend line is unacceptable if we want a vibrant future for our children, our community and ourselves. Jobs lead to economic growth, economic growth stimulates revenue, revenue enhances public resources, public resources enhance quality of life which attracts people and business to our community in an ideal, continuous cycle.

But, as the current economic reality has so clearly shown, the growth and economic success we experienced in the past created the resources that allowed us to have the vibrant community we have come to expect, and when this growth and economic success stalled, the resources we depended on to fund government activities disappeared. The County’s and State’s current budget crisis is a testament to this fact.

Maybe -- when our community was content with low unemployment, housing prices going up, tax dollars rolling in, business growth without effort -- we had the luxury of acting as though thriving commerce and business success were, at best, a necessary evil.

What we did not realize was that our County’s and State’s economic success was in spite of the burdens we placed on commerce and business. We can no longer afford the luxury of old attitudes, approaches, regulations and taxes.

We must become the competitors that our competitors already are and we must not waste this moment in time.

The Opportunity
This is a challenge, but one we should eagerly embrace. In fact, we should take this burden upon ourselves, not cast the blame at any individual or group. We are on the eve of a new year, 2010, which also happens to be an election year. As policies and ideas are discussed in the public realm, this is a terrific window of opportunity to advocate for policies that promote a favorable business climate, one that promotes job growth and is friendly to business expansion.

Let’s make our voice heard in a clear, effective manner. This coming year, the Chamber will provide opportunities and forums where our message of job growth and economic development will be heard by elected officials and the community at large. I hope you will take advantage of these opportunities to make your voice heard. Let’s turn our advocacy up a notch, but do so with a clean-timbred tone and the cleared-eyed voice of respect, which resonates far louder than blame, threats or accusation.

Honoring Small Businesses
The Gaithersburg/Germantown Chamber has about 400 members, 60% of which have 10 or fewer employees. I work for a large organization, Adventist HealthCare, which employs some 7,200 people in this region and has worked and is working to expand access to health care in the upcounty community.

But while I work for a large employer, I believe that it is small businesses that employ most people in our community and small business forms the backbone of our economy, locally and nationally.

My hat goes off to the courageous entrepreneurs’ who, despite challenges, assume risk, balance your books, meet payroll, produce goods and services and serve the community.

Ben Franklin, whose thoughts and ideas served as the founding for much that is considered cultural Americana, was a small business owner himself and envisioned our republic as a thriving community of business owners, where work and thrift and ingenuity and entrepreneurship are highly valued.

He is an ideal model linking business success with public good. He was a small business owner who helped found the University of Pennsylvania, created the lending library and created one of the first volunteer fire departments.

219 years after his death, we have an opportunity for our voice to ring with the message of business success and public good here in the upcounty and throughout Montgomery County and the State. Let’s not be shy about proclaiming the value to one and all of a thriving business climate and the necessity of creating jobs.

In closing, I wish to thank someone who is not here, my wife of 21 years, Idelys Jepson, who is at home helping our kids with their homework. She is my best friend and moral compass.

Thank you for being here tonight, have a great evening and let’s go out and create some new jobs!