Bill Tompkins was appointed president and CEO of the Montgomery County Economic Development Council in August. He is the first Black person to lead the council and got right to work on expanding the council’s role in providing visibility to the Black business community. (Courtesy Photo)

By Deborah Bailey,
Contributing Editor

Bill Tompkins, new CEO of the Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation (MCEDC) has a big vision and agenda for the business community in Maryland’s most populous county, with more than 1 million residents.  

Montgomery County’s residents are on the whole, relatively wealthy with a median income upwards of $117,000, according to the U.S. Census.  Many of the county’s major cities from Silver Spring to Gaithersburg, Germantown and Rockville frequently appear on national lists as places among the most diverse locations in the nation and a good place to call home.    

Tompkins wants to take the good and make it great for business in Montgomery County.   

“Montgomery County is home to 30,000 businesses.  Close to half of those are minority owned,” said Tompkins. 

That’s the good news. What comes next is the challenge Tompkins has pledged to transform.   

“The Black business community is very disjointed. Up until six months ago, there was no Black business directory in Montgomery County,” said Tompkins.  Answers to basic questions like the success and turnover rate of Black business have been based on anecdotal data until now.    

“That’s beginning to change, thanks to the work of our partner organizations,” Tompkins said.  

The Black Business Council, (an organization supported by MCEDC) is working on a Black business database so the county can have tangible information on Black-owned businesses – who they are and where they are located.  

Tompkins is taking the lead with the next steps: working closely with those businesses to decide what they need, and the best ways to deliver support to Black-owned businesses.  

Montgomery County will soon have its first Black Business Database this year.

Shortly after he was appointed president and CEO of MCEDC, the organization launched a “Be Next” campaign. The initiative was designed to attract business to the county and to ensure that Black businesses “are visible and we support their needs,” he said.  “Most of our Black businesses are small businesses with many in the service sector,” Tompkins said.  

“We know Black businesses need access to capital,” Tompkins said. “But it’s not just the direct access, it’s the preparation for that access to capital that Black businesses need,” emphasized Tompkins.  “[We need] training programs to prepare people to get the money,” he emphasized.  

In addition to the Black Business Council, Tompkins has connected with a variety of collaborators to create the support network for Black business in the county, like the Maryland Black Chamber of Commerce and the Montgomery NAACP’s Economic Development Council.   

“Bill is laying the groundwork for the growth and development of Black business in Montgomery County,” said Kenneth White, chair of the Maryland Black Chamber of Commerce and Senior Vice President of Sandy Springs, a bank in Montgomery County.  “Since he’s come to the table, I can see the impact his vision brings to the table,” White continued.   

White said that vision for the visibility and presence of the Black business community is needed now more than ever as the county and country are appearing from the three year COVID-19 pandemic that had an unprecedented impact on the business community.  

“We know that Black businesses were disproportionately impacted in terms of closing during the pandemic,” White said. But we don’t have a before and after database to tell us how. I hope with the tracking we are putting in place now, that will never happen again,” Tompkins said.  

As Tompkins looks into the future, he looks forward to continuing to grow in the depth and breadth of work with collaborators monitoring the progress of Black business in Montgomery County. 

What would success look like for Tompkins in the next 2 to 5 years for the Black business community? After a long pause, Tomkins reflects on what would bring Montgomery County closer to a “model” community with a thriving, participating Black business community 

  • Increased Black business participation in trade associations and chambers of commerce 
  • The presence of more Black businesses across key industries  
  • Increased Black presence across key industries represented by MCEDC like healthcare, cybersecurity, life sciences, the nonprofit sector, and finance  
  • County banks and venture capital firms will show more transactions with Black businesses  
  • Neighborhoods within the county will become more diverse with a better dispersion of people of color across neighborhoods 
  • More representation of Black business leadership in decision making and leadership roles across the County  

As Tompkins sums up the vision for the County he has called home for many years, he sees a Black business community in Montgomery County that is not only visible and profitable, but a community with leaders at decision tables across Maryland’s most populous and diverse county, supplying guidance and direction far into the future.