Ioanna Morfessis is an unusual name. But then, so is the person behind it.
At 29, Morfessis heads the Montgomery County Department of Economic and Community Development, administering the county's $100,000 ecconomic development budget, formulating policy and negotiaing business expansions and relocations within the county.
She is credited with the relocation of some of the county's largest businesses there and the expansion and retention of others. Morfessis had been acting director since last June when the previous director resigned.
"Each project she's tried, she's done a good job," said Montgomery County Executive Charles W. Gilchrist, who appointed her to the position in January.
Morfessis age and the fact that she's a woman, Gilchrist said, "both can be plusses, and in her case I think they are . . . She's had an excellent reception from the business community. She's someone who's young, energetic and on the ball."
For many middle-aged businessmen, "their reaction is initially sort of a posture where I don't want to say they don't take me seriously, but I have as yet to prove myself," Morfessis said. Younger men are "more open, more supportive." But she adds, there are always individual differences. Most of the business people she works with are men.
"I think it's an advantage to be a woman in this job," Morfessis continues. "It piques the interest of corporate people. They tend to remember me. And then," she adds, "there's my name.
"This is a great learning experience. I meet people daily in control of hundreds of millions of dollars. It's sort of like lessons in leadership. I'm trying to get all the lessons in leadership I can from them."
Morfessis started her leadership lessons at age 12 when she began working at her father's local Bird and Burger restaurant chain and his specialty construction firm. She worked as bookkeeper, secretary, cook and manager.
Before finishing college, she helped add $1.3 million in revenues in less than two years to her father's construction business, Mike J. Morfessis and Sons. The name didn't include daughters and neither did her father, she said.
"I wanted to be at the helm," Morfessis recalled. "And they couldn't handle it."
Morfessis has a helm now, and one of her first priorities, she said, is to establish more firmly a link between government and education.
"The Baltimore-Washington area lacks a focus of good schools that produce good brains," Morfessis said. "We need to focus on the universities here" and the highly trained labor force they can produce.
Morfessis added that the "small percentage of youth coming out of high schools have to have a choice as well."
"Another area needing attention, she says is retaining businesses while attracting new firms. "Attracting new industry is a minor thing we've focused on," Morfessis said. "we're mainly in business retention."
One major project, she said, will be the development of Rte. 29 as it extends from Colesville Road. "It will be more an area than a corridor growth. That will make a new international business setting," she said.
Morfessis also plans to push the revitalization of Silver Spring. "Silver Spring is the last frontier in the whole district that hasn't been overwhelmed with new development."
Most of Morfessis' time is spent meeting with business executives, listening to their problems and suggestions and planning ways to keep them in the county, she said. On what she calls a slow day, Morfessis: arranged a meeting with Gilchrist and a developer proposing a project for the county; met with Rockville officials on air rights development over a Metro subway site; conferred with an attorney representing a company and hotel chain considering Silver Spring as a location, and talked with officials of a local company interested in expanding within the county.
"Meetings aren't just something where you bull about the weather," Morfessis said. "We follow up and follow through."
And for fun, Morfessis said she reads business-oriented newspapers, magazines and reports on economic development in other localities. When she's not catching up on her reading she's addressing civic groups.
"The thing that really disappoints me the most is there's so much that needs to be done," Morfessis said. "We're not allowed to get into depth in any one thing. We recognize that we have our limits. We take a few things and try to do them really well."
Morfessis acknowledges that her job is a stepping stone greater things.
"I always wanted to be a senator and then a supreme Court justicce and then president of the United States," Morfessis said. But she decided,
"I'm not sure if I'm cut out for politics . . . people have no respect for the people they elect to office."
So where will she go? Morfessis smiles and answers, "Up."