After more than two years without a full-time leader at its helm, the Montgomery Business Development Corp. has named Holly Sears as its first president, an appointment the organization hopes will bring focus and muscle to its efforts to retain and attract businesses to the county.
The group, which was established in 2010 to work closely with the county government to boost economic growth, was previously run by volunteers from the local business community.
Until last summer, it lacked public funding, which made it difficult to hire full-time staff. But when the county authorized a $500,000 budget for MBDC in July, the organization began a search for a leader.
With Sears in the top job, “It’s really great to get this finally, really off the ground,” said Montgomery County Council member Nancy Floreen (D-At Large).
The new funding not only allowed the organization to hire Sears, but will permit her to bring on two to five additional full-time staffers next year.
Sears comes to the Washington region from Tennessee, where she served as the vice president of economic development for the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce.
“The biggest thing I can bring is a fresh pair of eyes and ears and perspective. I come from a different community,” Sears said.
Brian Gragnolati, the chairman of MBDC’s board of directors and the chief executive of Suburban Hospital, said Sears was selected because of her high-energy personality and her relevant experience.
While Sears will aim to lure new businesses to the area, she said her first priority would be to retain established ones.
“It’s a lot easier to keep what you have than to go to another state and pluck a headquarters,” Sears said.
As part of that effort, she plans to begin meeting with business leaders right away to learn what their needs are and what challenges they’re facing.
Sears said she sees Montgomery’s proximity to Washington as one of its key assets and key challenges. While the region is relatively prosperous, its economy is also heavily reliant on the federal government.
“You want to make sure you diversify the economic base so you’re not reliant on one sector,” Sears said.