Bill Tompkins is president and CEO of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation (MCEDC)— a title far from what he saw as perfect fit, and one he wasn’t prepared to take on when he accepted the position as chief operating officer four years ago.
Ten weeks after he started as COO, the former CEO announced he would not renew his contract, which meant Tompkins, 65, would need to take on a more vital role in that transition.
“That’s when I had to fast-forward my knowledge base about economic development,” he said. “It had to be quick learning, and I became the acting CEO.”
Tompkins said he wasn’t interested in becoming the permanent CEO of MCEDC, an independent public-private partnership in Rockville, Maryland.
“I didn’t put myself in the running for the job,” Tompkins said, “because I thought I would serve better as a strong number two.”
The Path to Leadership
Before joining MCEDC, Tompkins achieved an impressive corporate career. A graduate of Harvard School of Business, where he received his MBA, and Tufts University, where he earned a BA in economics and graduated magna cum laude, led him to such places as Eastman Kodak and The Washington Post.
He headed advertising and marketing at the historically Black-owned Philadelphia Tribune newspaper. He also served as President and CEO of the National Newspaper Publishers Association, the trade association for more than 200 Black-owned newspapers nationwide.
He eventually started his own consulting company, offering his in-depth knowledge and experience in marketing, business operations, strategic planning and nonprofit management to local businesses. He focused on strategic business opportunities and brand transformation strategies, but eventually found that being a self-employed entrepreneur differed from his aspiration.
“I didn’t like working for myself,” he said. He felt like working for himself lacked a daily structure. “I wanted to go back to corporate America,” he said.
Now that Tompkins has taken the helm as CEO, the first Black person to hold the position, he has also adopted its mission to advance equitable and inclusive economic growth, prosperity and sustainability in Montgomery County through activities that accelerate the development, retention and attraction of businesses in key industry sectors,” according to its website.
Tompkins said that one day, as he looked out of the window of his home and thought, “This place I’ve been living in for so long has economic development, but how does it work? What is this economy comprised of?” he pondered.
If asked those same questions now, he can rattle off responses he deeply believes and hopes will persuade others to move their businesses to Montgomery County or at least explore what the county has to offer, including its family-oriented options, homeownership, and business opportunities.
Why Should a Business Locate in Montgomery County?
“You name it; we’ve got it,” Tompkins brags.
“We have a talent for growth companies in life sciences, cyber security, hospitality, or healthcare. We’ve probably got the best talent pool in the region. And our infrastructure is great.
“We’ve got a very strong business network, and the environment, one-third of which is allocated for physical space, is tied to the agricultural reserves, including 93,000 acres of farmland. It’s very green here, and Rock Creek Park runs all the way through Montgomery County.”
“The housing stock is very strong here, too,” Tompkins asserts. “We have lots of livable environments.”
“We have it all, and we’re able to compete on a number of factors.”
Montgomery County Values its Diversity
Tompkins speaks with optimism about Montgomery County’s growing diversity.
“In the 1960s and 70s,” he said, “the majority of the residents in the county were white. Today, it is a majority, minority community where 150 languages are spoken, and the best schools in the region can be found. That adds to the richness and texture of what we’re all about.”
“Diversity goes beyond race and gender and sexual preference,” he continued, “it goes into everything you can do here, from entertainment to lifestyle choices, and it’s about making sure we’re building wealth here. It’s a place where you can take your business to the next level.”
“The most important thing is something that appears in our mission, and it is near and dear to my heart, and that is we expand economic and equitable growth. Whether you’re a large or small business, we want everyone who lives or works here to feel welcome and have the opportunity for success.”
A Symbol of the Past and Future
As Tompkins sat in front of a computer screen for an interview on Zoom, the window behind him allowed him to occasionally gaze down onto Rockville Pike, a major thoroughfare, which he described as a symbol of Montgomery County’s past and the future.
“Back in the day, Rockville Pike had nothing but strip malls. It has a lot of nostalgia behind it. On the lower end was one of the nation’s first Howard Johnson restaurants in the D.C. area. It’s where the Marriott Headquarters is, and as you move further up, you begin to see remnants of the life sciences business that have begun to take over here. You have four Metro stops connecting a thriving metropolis from Friendship Heights at the D.C. line to Shady Grove. It’s very vibrant, with lots of commerce, and you can find lots of really strong communities to live in. We still have lots of shopping malls and Class A office space.”
“It’s a reminder of everything we have to offer.”
Tompkins and his wife, Dana, are both native Washingtonians. They have lived in Montgomery County for more than 30 years.
To learn more about the MCEDC, its programs, and its services, visit https://thinkmoco.com.