What will lure Biotech companies to MoCo? Local Food!

Lunch at Facebook

How do top companies lure the best talent? Really good food. NPR recently reported on the inner workings of both Google and Facebook, where the country’s best chefs have been leaving top restaurants to work in the corporate cafeterias.   The conditions are a bit different from the restaurant world, employees can eat all three meals a day, free of charge. Josef Desimone had a successful career in San Fransisco’s restaurant scene when he got the recruiting call from Google’s home office. He turned the job down at first, thinking it meant repeated menus created with sub-standard canned ingredients. He was wrong, “And when I went to Google, it was nothing like that,” he says. “It was completely the opposite: It was all free-range; it was all organic. It was everything that the restaurant I was working at couldn’t afford to be.” Desimone’s title is now “Culinary Overlord” at the Facebook headquarters in Palo Alto where he serves 1,300 lunches a day made from the freshest ingredients, and never repeats a menu.

Offering excellent food has proved to be an important tool in hiring and keeping great talent. “”Google offered food — all of a sudden, they were the engineering mecca. Facebook offered food and, all the sudden, same thing. You know, they become the engineering mecca,” Desimone says. “There’s a reason for that. … It’s a great recruiting tool.”

local eggs, the breakfast of biotech champions!

How does this amusing story about California relate to Montgomery County? The forces pushing the Gaithersburg West “Science City” plan for Belward Farm invoke the names of  technology hub cities, like Palo Alto and Raleigh/Durham’s Research Triangle, to try to sell the surrounding communities on the proposed development. However, the top Palo Alto companies get an edge by giving their employees fresh, organic food. Closer to home, just north of the proposed Gaithersburg West Development lies a source of this secret recruitment tool, it is called the Ag Reserve, where mostly family-run, small and mid-scale farms contribute $33 Million to the County economy by harvesting table crops and livestock. Should the project be built and should the top Biotech companies choose to locate there, a partnership between companies eager to hire and keep top talent by feeding them well, and Ag Reserve farmers, hoping to find increased markets for thier harvest, would benefit all involved.

However, the Science City plan as currently written threatens to irrevocably damage the Reserve’s farms. The sheer size and density of the project, comparable to 4 1/2 Pentagons, will require the construction of 8 lane highways to handle the traffic produced by adding 40,000 new employees to the site. The strain on the Reserve from traffic and housing development will make it financially impossible for farmers to continue farming. The prospect of fresh local food for the entire region (including hungry workers) will dim.

This is one more illustration of why the Gaithersburg West project must be scaled back. The cities that have sucessfuly lured cutting edge buisnesses have done so by offering good quality of life to the prospective employees, and striking a balance between development and open space.

The County Council and others supporting the plan seem to think, “if we build it they will come,”   but we say “if we have farm land left to feed them, and open space left for them to recreate in, they will come.” The top talent in Palo Alto would agree.

For more information on the Gaithersburg West Plan, please visit:

Scale it Back

Residents for Reasonable Development

MCA Board Member Speaks Out: Don’t Let Backroom Deals Weaken Stormwater Regs!

MCA Board Member and clean water activist Steve Dryden’s powerful letter to the Washington Post regarding “backroom” deals that diminish stormwater regulations that aim to protect area watershed and the Chesapeake Bay.

See Letter here.

MCA and Partners Question White Flint Plan

More should be required of developers seeking bonus density in White Flint environmental groups charge.

MoCo offers HELP: Home Energy Loan Program

Montgomery County is the first in the region to adopt a low-interest Home Energy Loan Program (HELP).   

Many homeowners would like to make their home more energy efficent or switch to a renewable energy source to heat and cool their home. The big hurdle is the inital cost of making these improvements, and the lengthy payback period on the investment. Montgomery County is formulating a loan program to remove this hurdle for homeowners through low interest loans, making energy efficient upgrades easier to finance.

Under HELP, a homeowner would voluntarily obtain a home energy audit from a certified auditor to identify the universe of cost effective, energy efficient and renewable energy measures that could be taken. The homeowner would then take the results of the audit to the County, which would provide a zero interest loan to make the improvements. The loans would be paid back over a 15 year period with the savings from the upgrades. The loan would run with the property, not the homeowner who took out the loan, meaning less risk for the applicant.  The seed money for HELP comes from the Energy Efficency funds of the Federal Stimulus.

The Montgonery County Department of Environmental Protection is requesting public comments until April 1 as they develop the regulations behind this program. The full regulations can be found here.  Comments should be addressed to:

Eric Coffman, Senior Energy Planner Eric.Coffman@montgomerycountymd.gov

Online Forest Easement Look-up

Sun shadow through trees

Forest conservation easements are an excellent tool for protecting trees on private land, prohibiting building, mowing or other activities that would harm forested areas. Easements are a perpetual covenant that runs with a land title, so trees remain protected even when a property changes hands.  Since 1992 Montgomery County has lost around 4,400 acres of forest. Since the program started,  the County has protected an impressive 9,700 acres or  3.5% of the County’s land through forest conservation easements.  The County has unveiled a new online mapping  tool  to track existing easements. The map allows you to search for a particular address, or view easements from a birds-eye view.  Click here to use the tool, and learn more about forest conservation easements.