Did you miss the Howard County Executive speech before the Chamber of Commerce yesterday (I did)…but fortunate for us they live streamed it here: (click image below to view the video on Facebook)
I also got sent the text of his speech (it is good to know people in high places). Here it is:
Good Afternoon and thank you for joining us here today. I’d like to welcome you to the first State of Business Address in Howard County.
I’d like to start by thanking many of the people who have ensured that the State of Business in Howard County is strong. Thank you to the Howard County Chamber of Commerce and especially Leonardo for hosting us here today and providing a platform for our community to reflect. Amanda Hof, with Visit Howard County, who has been a wonderful partner from our very first Ellicott City Holiday Bucks events, EC Bucks, to our Mill Money for Savage Mill, to tirelessly promoting all of the incredible restaurants, events, and hospitality that we can offer.
And thank you to my Deputy Chief of Staff Jennifer Jones, who has led many of the economic mobility and revitalization initiatives you’ll hear about today. I’d also like all my Cabinet, Administrators and staff to please stand and be acknowledged. Finally, on a personal note, I’d like to thank my wife, Shani, for her constant support.
I think often about where we are as a community, for all who live and work here, and for those who dream of making Howard County their home or place of business. I think we’re at a crossroads. We’re at a crossroads between who we have become, and who we want to be. There is no doubt, we have become one of this nation’s most accoladed and awarded Counties. We’re one of the best places to raise a family, offering the best public education, and are nationally recognized as a healthy and safe community.That’s who we are.
But the bigger question, is: who do we want to be? As we stand at this crossroads, I look back at the unique and creative journey of our County, and then I look forward. Do you know what I see? Opportunity. I see, as we enter into a new year, a new decade… the dawning of an age of opportunity.
In the last decade we have steadily recovered from an economic recession– the worst economic decline since the Great Depression. Today, we have a record low unemployment rate of 2.5%. We have doubled the state’s employment growth in the last decade. However, we must realize from history that we can’t take this economy for granted. In times of prosperity, there is a responsibility to remain vigilant. We must be innovative. We must be thoughtful and efficient. We must create opportunities. And we must act now.
The age of opportunity starts with businesses right here in our neighborhoods. Howard County is home to approximately 10,000 businesses of all sizes, from corporate headquarters to start-ups. And our workforce is incredibly well educated – more than 62% of our residents have a bachelor’s degree or higher. I have made it a core mission of my administration to provide personal and targeted support to grow and strengthen our business community. I wanted to deeply understand the challenges and opportunities that this community experiences every day.
We started by visiting over 150 companies during our annual business appreciation week, twice as many businesses that were contacted in years prior. Thank you to all of the amazing ambassadors who helped make that possible. We kept this momentum and commitment by hosting quarterly roundtables and making monthly visits to companies. My key question to businesses was: how can Howard County help?
We heard from many organizations that they were out-growing their space – and we helped them identify new locations here in the County to expand. We heard about confusion from new restaurants on how to get permits – and we worked with our Health Department to hire Howard County’s first ombudsman to ensure a smoother process, breaking down barriers, for businesses who want to invest in our community. Thank you to Dr. Maura Rossman and her team for bringing on Jay Praeger. He is here to help you seize opportunity and be successful.
We recognized that with growth, there comes higher costs – so we ensured companies knew about local tax credits for expanding their workforce. Each of these challenges became opportunities. To keep our businesses in Howard County. To create a smoother process for new businesses. And to incentivize business growth. And we will remain vigilant.
That’s why the first week of this June we’re celebrating our annual Business Appreciation Week – pushing ourselves even more with a higher goal of visiting at least 175 Howard County companies. This includes new and established local businesses, which are a pivotal driver in our economy.
In this age of opportunity – we recognized another common theme from businesses. The desire to increase procurement opportunities with Howard County government and the flow of procurement dollars back into our community. We are making that happen with our Local Business Initiative.
Last year, we held Howard County’s very first Local Business Certification Workshop, in partnership with our Office of Purchasing. This free event provided our local business owners with assistance in the Howard County Procurement Process. At the end of 2018 there were 100 firms registered and certified with the County’s Office of Purchasing in the Local Business Initiative Program. By the end of 2019, we had 130 firms. And today – there are nearly 170 registered and certified. That’s more than a 40% increase. In fact, in 2019 we spent $10.5 million with local business – a 162% increase from 2018. But, together, we can get that number even higher.
Next month, our Purchasing Office will have a pair of targeted workshops. One will be focused on information technology and the other on construction. These workshops will prepare our local businesses to maximize procurement opportunities in the County. You’ll notice the fliers for these two events on your tables. Dean Hof, our Purchasing Administrator has managed these initiatives and we’re incredibly grateful for his work to keep as much money as possible right here in our community while lifting up small businesses.
More than 75 percent of businesses in our county have fewer than 20 employees. Which is why we hosted Howard County’s first Small Business Summit in 2019 – to equip companies with the resources and support needed to grow and expand. In a community known for our diversity – with more than 40% of our residents identifying as people of color, it is more important than ever to make sure there are opportunities for all. In 2019 alone, we spent $59.2 million with minority, woman, and veteran owned firms – a nearly 20% increase than what was spent in 2018.
In the age of opportunity, we want to be a County that continues to engage with business and fosters a culture of innovation. In my first year, we asked ourselves: What if we could create a space where the next Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, or Google is discovered and cultivated? What if that space could serve as an incubator for entrepreneurs and leaders in many critical fields?
Columbia Gateway was an ideal spot for the Innovation Center, which consolidates our business incubator, resource center, and added services into a single hub. While the Innovation Center was announced in March 2017, we worked diligently in our first few months in office to develop the MOU which was signed in March of 2019 to move forward and make the Center a reality. And today, in less than a year, the Innovation Center is creating strong foundations for business growth and entrepreneurship.
I’d like to thank the Howard County Economic Development Authority, especially Larry Twele and the members of our EDA Board for promoting Howard County as a major attraction, around the state and the world. And a special thanks to Chuck Bubeck for leading the Innovation Center and cultivating partnerships that are strategic and long-lasting.
With this team’s hard work, international businesses have already connected with our Innovation Center. Creating a soft-landing space for international technology companies looking to work with federal agencies. In fact, today I’m pleased to announce that the Howard County EDA and Cyber Security Council of Deustchland will sign a memorandum of understanding. This MOU will establish space at the Innovation Center to support German companies entering the U.S. market. I envision a business community that extends globally, appealing to companies from all over the world.
In the age of opportunity, we know that as critical as international partnerships are – we cannot lose sight of our roots. In 2018, the world, and our community was stunned as Ellicott City flooded for a second time in 22 months. When I took office, I launched a comprehensive plan to keep our beloved town from becoming a distant memory. And in our first year, we made substantial accomplishments in increasing public safety, acquiring the ten properties on lower Main Street needed to mitigate flood waters and preserve our rich history.
A special thank you to, Shaina Hernandez, my Senior Policy Advisor, who has led our Ellicott City Safe and Sound Plan to continue our historic preservation and economic vitality efforts.
Ellicott City is not just an historic heartbeat of Howard County – it is an economic engine. We guided nearly 30 businesses to open or reopen last year. A testament to the incredible resiliency of the town.
The age of opportunity stretches from our historic mill towns of Ellicott City and Savage, to Columbia, where we are advancing Jim Rouse’s vision. In Downtown Columbia we’re creating a connected community where residents can live, work, and play. Rouse said, “Cities must be fun.” We want to make that vision a reality. With the best mix of restaurants, retail, and entertainment – a distinguished hub for culture and commerce.
This year we’re welcoming the largest Busboys and Poets to the Merriweather District. The 10,000 square foot restaurant will also include a standalone bookstore and event space – a place where art and culture come together and intentionally collide.
As Columbia and our County continues to thrive, there are many stakeholders in our community with concerns about balanced growth. Upon taking office a year ago, I inherited a recent study of our County zoning regulations commissioned by the Department of Planning and Zoning. The study triggered significant public interest, receiving over 700 comments after 40 public meetings to solicit community feedback on the effectiveness of our current regulations. When I reviewed the study and the feedback, I found that many of the comments were not about specific zoning issues. Rather, many were expressing concern about the policy and direction of development in our County.
And that is why I made the decision this past June to accelerate the schedule to develop the County’s next General Plan. This puts us one year ahead of schedule to create a long-range plan that will guide decisions regarding development, land preservation, and changing demographics. We need to have a community conversation, and face the broad questions, about how and where Howard County can grow in a way that can balance our high quality of life with our fiscal and economic realities.
I’d like to thank Sameer Sidh, my Chief of Staff, and our new Director of Planning & Zoning, Amy Gowan. Sam and Amy provide insight and support to address planning and its relationship to business success.
In the coming weeks, we will kick off our General Plan process. This planning effort will engage business leaders and residents, while also targeting those traditionally underrepresented in the planning process. Our residents and our business leaders deserve a process that will establish expectations about the location and intensity of development in our County moving forward. I believe that our next General Plan will deliver on establishing those expectations.
In an age of opportunity, we must be thoughtful and efficient in where to invest our time and effort. After taking office, we asked ourselves: how do you measure success as a government?
Angela Cabellon, my Deputy Chief Administrator and the County’s first Chief Innovation Officer, has championed many of our efforts to be a more efficient and innovative government, and led the launch of the Howard County Data Analytics and Statistics Hub, or HoCoDASH.
HoCoDASH is our performance management system designed to further improve the effectiveness and efficiency of government – and to identify where opportunities can be found. We will be data informed and people driven. With our performance measures, we’re promoting healthy living, working, and playing in our community. In this age of opportunity – we’ve set a range of goals to be achieved by 2025, including:
Completing 95 miles of bikeways with critical connectivity
Increasing total business support activity and business community client participation by 20%
Connecting an additional 130 working families with good homes
Reaching 120 emerging entrepreneurs and helping them grow their business; and
Achieving one million rides on Regional Transit Authority (RTA) buses
These goals and many others reflect what I’ve heard throughout my first year in office – our workforce wants the ability to live, work, and play right here in our community. Because employees need to get to their jobs, we expanded RTA services by 6,000 hours. Because employees want to be less dependent on their vehicles, we invested a record of $2.2 million in bike and pedestrian infrastructure. Because employees want to live where they work – we put into motion the Housing Opportunities Master Plan. This will address housing affordability and make sure that Howard County is a jurisdiction welcoming to ALL. When our business community is driven by healthy, and happy employees, we will continue to see expanding growth and prosperity.
In addition to providing a high quality of life – we also must equip our residents with the skills and resources to become the best employees. Over the next decade, we expect more than 35% growth in the education and health service industries.
I want to thank Francine Trout and her team at the Office of Workforce Development for maximizing the “Zap the Gap” grant to provide 18 individuals with healthcare training and ensure more than 75% secured a job. The program spent time on career exploration, essential skills, language bridge classes, and certified nursing assistant training.
We’re also expanding apprenticeships even more – to build a workforce pipeline for our businesses and provide critical training to our students. For the first time, we had a “signing day” for the government’s first apprenticeships. We hosted multiple apprenticeship events and partnered with businesses across industries, including I.T. and cyber. Howard Community College launched the first I.T. apprenticeship with AT&T, and is committed to creating a more robust cybersecurity program. Thank you to Dr. Kate Hetherington and her team. These processes and improvements are critical to attracting and retaining a talented workforce.
In the age of opportunity – we must not forget that businesses and communities also thrive on something else – imagination. To further spark creativity in Howard County, last year we launched our first Innovation Fund. $225,000 dollars for organizations to bring new and unique initiatives to our residents, that would not have been possible without support.
I’m please to share today, that we have selected eight outstanding projects for these grants. They will benefit our residents and foster a culture of inventive ideas. Next week – we will celebrate each of these projects with our first-ever Innovation Week, visiting the eight organizations to see innovation in action. These organizations dared to imagine what Howard County can be.
As we seize upon the opportunities before us – it is critical that we remember: “Today is your opportunity to build the tomorrow you want.” And as we stand at these crossroads – I’m thankful for the many partners in this room who have embraced our vision. We will be a community that is focused not only on becoming the best county overall but making sure we are providing opportunity for all. Thank you.
I think my favorite part might have been when CE Calvin Ball sat down with Leonardo McClarty (President/CEO of the Howard County Chamber) and answered questions (around the 26 minute mark of the video above). Right off the bat Leonardo jumped into the HoCoGov budget and taxes…so happy to see him start off with that question. Be sure to watch that part of the video.
Look…CE Ball is a politician. You have to start with that understanding walking into this discussion. He will always leaves himself wiggle room just in case…but…if you read between the lines in what he said yesterday and read between the lines in what he has told the HCPSS in the past…I do not see a significant (or any) tax raise hitting HoCo residents in 2021 (I mean we already had one of those in his tenure to pay for new Fire Department stuff). Lord I hope I am right on this topic.
Now if that changes…will I have comments on it…you bet I will.
Now if you want to be concerned about stuff…watch what the Howard County Delegation in Annapolis is doing right now. The proposed massive tax hike on residents and small businesses to pay for the Kirwan legislation is scary. As a small business owner it is seriously worrisome to me. I will be watching closely to see if our delegation is pro or anti small business with their votes on that legislation. Because to me today…that is how I see that legislation.