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Q&A With AAEDC President & CEO Julie Mussog

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Prior to her recent appointment as president and CEO of the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp. (AAEDC), Julie Mussog had been serving as county controller, having been selected by then-County Executive Laura Neuman in 2013 to manage the Office of Finance and its staff of 75.

Prior to that appointment, a glance at her résumé reveals a diverse list of stops. She held the position of special assistant to the county executive for community affairs, where her duties included managing the constituent services staff; overseeing the Regional Growth Management Initiative/Base Realignment and Closure and county executive grant programs; and boards and commissions. Previously, she served as chief of staff for Del. Herbert McMillan.

The daughter of two educators, Mussog started her career at the Detroit office of PricewaterhouseCoopers; she also worked for Pulte Corp. and an early stage venture-funded entity before moving to Austin, Texas, to join Dell. After a move to Maryland, she joined NVR Inc. and later worked for EnhanceScape Corp., of Annapolis, before joining McMillan’s office.

A CPA, she earned her MBA from the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan, after completing her undergrad work at Michigan State. Mussog has lived in Eastport for 12 years with her husband and son.

Did you ever think that you would run an economic development office?

No. I came out of the University of Michigan business school and worked at PricewaterhouseCoopers; while I didn’t think I’d stay there forever, I did think I’d stay in the private sector. But we never know how our lives will roll out, and I’ve been very fortunate to have a wide range of experiences.

Continuing that thought, working at the legislature was not something I thought I’d do, either, but Herb [McMillan] wanted someone who understood budgets, finance, etc. I’ve come away thinking everyone should have an opportunity to do both and see how different disciplines integrate and work. I think it puts me in a unique position to come into the economic development role.

What do you consider the main focus of the new job?

I think of myself as being the liaison between the government and the private sector for the businesses that are already contributing to our community, and helping them to get what they need, be it training, loan assistance, research, etc., while also attracting new businesses and industries. Happily, we already have a capable, experienced staff that I’m ready to work with.

What are your feelings about the progress of the Odenton Town Center project, notably the possibility of incorporating tax increment funding (or a TIF) to build a new parking garage at the MARC station?

I think we’re in the homestretch of finalizing the agreements with the state of Maryland and the developers for the financing for the parking garage, which will hold about 1,000 cars. Once that’s underway, I really will feel like the project will take off.

What are your observations after having worked on the Odenton TIF?

TIFs are supposed to stimulate development and growth where they otherwise might not be economically feasible. The county currently has six TIF districts, and will have seven if Odenton’s is approved; one of the most successful is Parole Town Center. That district helped pay for the exit ramp off Route 50 to Anne Arundel Medical Center (AAMC). Even with debt service payments, the assessment increase was so significant that it has sent millions of dollars into the general fund.

In Odenton, the property assessments have risen with the new development, and that rise has provided a steadily increasing stream of revenue to the TIF fund. It will enable us to issue bonds to build the new parking garage at the MARC station and, maybe, eventually, bonds for some other projects, such as parks and bike trails in Odenton.

An increase in assessments is exactly what’s supposed to happen. So, if the option of incorporating a TIF was not available, a number of projects in the county would not have risen.

What’s your take on the massive Two Rivers residential project, which is technically in Odenton, but is closer to Crofton?

I think it’s going to be a beautiful community, and it will have a huge impact on the county. Not only are we increasing total county assessments with the new construction, but the new construction is having the effect of increasing the assessments in the surrounding area as well, though it is early to see the overall benefits of what’s coming.

Combined with the county’s revenue cap and the homestead tax credit, these increases in commercial tax assessments have the benefit of working towards lowering the overall tax rate for homeowners, since the county is capped as to how much revenue in property tax it can collect each year.

And how about the TIF for the just (formally) announced Maryland Live! Hotel & Event Center?

That TIF district has been in place for about 18 months, so we’re working with the Cordish Companies and our outside financial advisers on the terms of the bonds for the event center.

What are your thoughts on incorporating TIFs in general? How many are too many, given potential problems like unpredictable gains in tax revenues, excessive tax increases on surrounding properties, etc.?

The majority of our TIFs have a second layer of protection for the county general fund in the form of a special tax that kicks in if ever the property tax revenues fall short. I believe that is why some TIF districts in California and Florida have had issues that we are not exposed to.

I don’t think we’ll ever have that issue here, because of our due diligence and the application process. Projects for TIF districts are thoroughly vetted by a review team composed of leadership from finance, budget, planning and zoning, law, public works, economic development and the chief administrative officer. Remember, TIFs are only for projects that if not for public support would be economically infeasible. We’d never do that for a lot that’s intended for 200 houses in Piney Orchard, for example, because there would obviously be no need to help a developer make such a project feasible.

We don’t move superfast on creating them; we just do it when the need arises. Today, there are only six of them that have issued debt, and five contribute annually to the general revenue fund.

How will your office interact with the county’s Office of Planning and Zoning to expedite projects?

Although there is always room for improvement, I think the current model has been successful, where AAEDC sits at the table during planning and zoning’s regular scheduled weekly meetings for developers and commercial building owners, and maintains communication between the different parties as these development projects work their way through the agencies’ review process.

AAEDC remains involved through the inspection process, until the project and/or improvements are completed and occupancy approved. The county executive also holds monthly core group meetings and AAEDC sits on the land use core group, which is an excellent opportunity to bring any issues or concerns to leadership in these departments. Delays can be very costly, so our goal is to provide support to help expedite projects.

What will your emphasis on marketing at the AAEDC be?

I was aware that that office had not been interacting with the media as much as it could have been, and I plan to be very accessible and proactive with getting our message out. Also, I know that the staff has some ideas that I’d like for them to share with me when I start.

The Chesapeake Regional Tech Council (CRTC, which was founded by the AAEDC) has flourished due to the contributions of a various professionals. How will you work with the organization?

The most obvious way we work with them is by having an AAEDC staff member on the board. We already give the CRTC some grant money and provide some sponsorships. It’s the most successful technology-based organization in our area, so our backing it is important.

How will you integrate with the startup community?

I’m looking to Mary Burkholder [AAEDC senior vice president and CRTC board member] to get me caught up with what’s going on with the tech community. I want to pay special attention to the cybersecurity sector that’s growing around Fort Meade and make it everything that we can.

Will you work to help identify more angel investors and sources of venture capital?

Sure. Anything we can do to identify additional sources of funding in the community represents a big win for us.

What are your thoughts about the CIC?

I think its location (in Odenton, across Route 175 from Fort Meade) is a real plus, especially since half of its startups are cyber-related. I haven’t met the resident business owners yet. My understanding is that several staff members are very involved there.

We’re looking for a new director, so that’s a priority. We need to ensure that the residents are getting the assistance that they were promised when they moved in that they need to move forward.

What metrics will you use to measure the impact of the AAEDC?

I’ve already asked that question myself, of our staff. I’ll be working with the board and staff to make sure the metrics we are tracking are appropriate for achieving our goals. We need to know, and report on, how our goals are being achieved.

What do you consider the biggest challenge of your career?

I think, like most working mothers, the biggest challenge is trying to balance a career that you that love with family time. I might not be able to make every school event, but I do try to make the ones I can and be really present in the moments and time that I do have with my family. It is a challenge to turn off work, and I admit there are days that I am more successful than others.

What do you consider your biggest professional success?

I think knowing that I am leaving the Office of Finance in a better place than it was in when I started. The staff and I have worked very hard during the past three-and-a-half years to implement best practices in regards to policies and procedures, new technologies, customer focused solutions, strategic hires and reorganizations. The overall cultural change is something that I’m proud of.