State of the County Address
Delivered by Howard County Executive Ken Ulman
January 31, 2013
I stand before you for my seventh State of the County address more confident than ever that the future of Howard County is bright, our momentum is growing, and that the state of our county is resilient, robust and ready.
All signs show that we have weathered the worst of the economic crisis. The real estate market is improving and business growth is on the rise. Your county government is leaner, more nimble, more responsive and more focused.
Once again we were named one of the best places to live in America by CNN and Money magazine. We continue to be the healthiest county in Maryland. Our schools, libraries and parks continue to earn national recognition. And we have, once again, the lowest unemployment rate in the state of Maryland.
But it is important to note that none of these accomplishments have been achieved by accident. They all happen by design.
They are a result of the decisions we have made together. We have chosen to invest in education, sustainability and public health. We have chosen to seek innovative and creative solutions to challenges. And those investments and choices are paying dividends.
We do this not for the sake of innovation itself, but with a purpose -- based on our shared values. We do not settle for just adequate or functional. We strive to improve every day.
You, the residents and business leaders of Howard County, demand excellence and smart decisions. You want us to innovate. And I, along with our dedicated county employees, rise each day committed to meeting and exceeding your expectations.
We pay attention to the needs of the private sector and have created a business-friendly environment. We make the right investments in education, open space and infrastructure, thereby creating thriving sustainable communities. Through our choices and our decisions, we have created a MODEL FOR MARYLAND.
Last year provided us with several unexpected challenges. And we were reminded that the work we do is not just for ourselves, but for our children.
So when we create a MODEL FOR MARYLAND, we are creating opportunity not just for ourselves, but for those who come after us. By our actions, we ensure that our children grow and thrive in a safe and nurturing environment.
The most important responsibility we will always have is to protect the safety of our people. I have never been more proud of the men and women of the Howard County Police Department and Fire and Rescue Services than in the past year.
We were tested in so many ways in 2012 -- by merciless weather events such as the “derecho” storm in June and by Hurricane Sandy in October, and by tragedies like the August train derailment in Ellicott City. But we persevered, thanks to hard work, planning and cooperation.
I wish you all could see what goes on in our Emergency Operations Center when a storm like Hurricane Sandy is approaching.
Behind the scenes, it is all hands on deck. With Sandy, we spent hours poring over flood-plain maps, figuring out where the best shelter locations would be, and deciding how to notify residents if they needed to evacuate.
Fortunately, we didn’t have to implement those plans. But your government was as ready as possible – because we work so hard, and because we look for innovative solutions.
Not all innovations come from the latest computer programs or cool apps that let you find a downtown parking space, although we like those too. Sometimes they are simple changes that come from the drive to do things efficiently and effectively. Let me tell you about one improvement that we developed during last year’s storms and were able to share beyond our borders.
When power is out and trees are down, we used to send a police officer to control traffic, and then wait for another worker from a different department to remove those limbs and trunks from the roadways, with little interagency coordination. But then we realized it would be much better to get everything done at once. So we created “strike teams,” made up of police officers to direct motorists and workers with chainsaws to cut down trees, working together to get things back to normal more quickly than ever.
While Sandy largely spared Howard County, our friends in Western Maryland and on the Eastern Shore were not as fortunate. So when our “strike teams” were done here, we sent them with their chainsaws to the mountains -- where more than a foot of heavy, wet snow took down power lines, creating a life or death situation. Within hours, Howard County workers removed hundreds of trees, helping to restore power. Later, our building inspectors went to Crisfield, in Somerset County, to aid recovery efforts there.
When we have a MODEL FOR MARYLAND here in Howard, we should share it. And that’s what we did. Greg Fiala, I’d like to ask you to stand. Greg is a member of our Recreation and Parks Department, and he was in Garrett County helping our fellow Marylanders get their lives back in order. Greg, I know that you and your colleagues left your families behind at a difficult time to serve our neighbors. Thank you for your selfless act of public service.
Natural disasters and other major events also highlight the critical importance of communicating with the public.
For those of us in public service, it is vital that we use all available platforms to share information and invite a dialogue at all times. That’s why it is so important to embrace social media. If you haven’t already done so, please like me on Facebook and follow me @kenulman on Twitter. That’s not just a shameless plug. We are always pushing out information at all hours, every day of the week, on breaking news, school closings and important events in our community.
For example, during Hurricane Sandy, one Columbia resident, Julie Rosenthal, along with the Young Women’s Giving Circle, school system, and Oak Tree Furniture, organized a donation drive through social media to help our neighbors to the north in their recovery. But Julie needed help spreading the message. She reached out to me on Facebook, and without hesitation we posted a call to action. Instantly, Howard County residents were compelled to help. They shared with friends on Facebook. They drove to Clarksville Middle School and dropped off donations. And then they talked about it on Facebook and Twitter. It was a great example of how social media can bring a community together, and I was happy to share this particular experience with my own daughters – who couldn’t wait to help load the truck.
While I am a proponent of social media, I am also reminded that whatever is posted, shared, tweeted, liked, you name it – it lives forever.
Sometimes I wish it didn’t. Look at the screen for Exhibit A. Sure, I lost the bet on the Ravens-Redskins game to my good friend, Prince George’s County Executive Rushern Baker. And all of the TV stations in Washington shared my terrible voice singing Hail to the Redskins while wearing an RG III jersey. BUT, Rushern and his Redskins will be watching this Sunday while my Baltimore Ravens are playing in the Super Bowl. In the end, I think I came out on top. Hey, if there is any link to my singing and picking up trash and the Ravens making it to the Super Bowl - be prepared to see regular Facebook pictures of me picking up trash next season.
Our public information office had a lot of fun with the Redskins-Ravens challenge. And one member of the team deserves special recognition today. Kathy Sloan Beard has dedicated three decades to Howard County, across five administrations and today is Kathy’s last day with the county. Kathy, please accept my gratitude for all you have done and best wishes on this next stage of your life.
It is often through the lens of an emergency that we observe the true character of our people. It was a late August night when I received the call that a train had derailed in downtown Ellicott City.
When I arrived at the scene, it looked like something out of a movie set. Mangled freight cars and coal filled the streets and parking lots of historic Ellicott City. We quickly learned that two young women were quite literally in the wrong place at the wrong time.
A rescue and clean-up operation had to take place in a confined space, with respect for the historic nature of the buildings and surroundings.
But what happened next was remarkable. We took control of the scene. The National Transportation Safety Board arrived and quickly completed an evaluation. CSX took full responsibility for the damage. Our public works crews oversaw clean-up.
And in just five days, historic Ellicott City was fully open for business. Even the lead NTSB investigator told me at the time that he was shocked that we got things back to normal so quickly.
To the families and friends of Rose Mayr and Elizabeth Nass, please know that this community will never forget the two very special young women who lost their lives that night.
To the people who live and work in Ellicott City, you have shown your resiliency through trying times, and you have my commitment that we will continue working to make improvements to the historic district.
Since the derailment, streets have been repaved and curbs have been repaired, and just this week, we announced a major new capital project that will include additional street and sidewalk improvements, better stormwater management, and the creation of more amenities to celebrate the town’s connection to its natural environment.
While major emergencies and natural disasters are still fairly rare, our public safety team shows its mettle day in and day out.
Thanks to the men and women of the Howard County Police Department, violent crime is down and traffic fatalities are dropping. Still, too many people lose their lives on our roads. But I know our enforcement strategies are making a difference. I want to congratulate our Police Department for winning the 2012 Chief’s Challenge, a competition among Maryland police departments to address impaired driving, speeding and seatbelt use.
We are saving lives, as a MODEL FOR MARYLAND.
And we must remember that our officers put their lives at risk every day to save others. Just a few weeks ago, a Howard County police officer was driving to the station at about 3 a.m. in order to serve a warrant when he came across a gruesome scene. A two-vehicle accident left one car mangled and lying in an embankment, overturned and on fire.
The officer got out and approached the burning car, and saw that there was a young woman inside. And with the flames growing, time was short. He scanned the scene, and saw what he needed to do. The officer crawled underneath, and through a small hole in the windshield, grabbed the unconscious young woman by her hair and pulled her to safety.
That woman is alive today because the officer jumped to action, and did what he was trained to do.
Corporal Craig Ream is with us today. Corporal, please stand. As Police Chief William McMahon said at the time, “We hear the word ‘hero’ used all the time, but Craig’s actions were truly heroic.”
Craig, thank you, from all of us, for what you did that night.
We took a monumental step forward last year toward modernizing our Department of Fire and Rescue Services, opening our new Glenwood Fire Station – Howard’s first new fire station in nearly two decades – and adding two more medical transport units, bringing our total in the field at any time to 14. These investments, coupled with new technology to quickly deploy units where they are needed most, are helping us drive down response times and save lives. By setting a high goal, we achieved success by design, and our commitment to rapid response earned Howard County the Heart Safe Community 2012 award from the International Association of Fire Chiefs. With our focus on medical response and the first full-time medical director in the state, we are proud to be a MODEL FOR MARYLAND and the nation.
I take tremendous pride in our schools, parks and libraries, among the best in the nation. Having the highest quality of life allows us to attract and grow businesses and strengthen the foundation for future success.
Once again, Howard County has the lowest unemployment rate in the state, and we have consistently maintained that position through the Great Recession.
That doesn’t happen by accident. We have fostered new businesses and ideas through our Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship, and we have focused on key advantages such as our proximity to Fort Meade through our Economic Development Authority and our Mission Growth Initiative.
Once again this year, the rating agencies have reaffirmed Howard County’s best possible bond rating – Triple A. Of the more than 3,000 counties in the United States, fewer than 1 percent have the top rating from all three agencies – reaffirming our responsible stewardship of taxpayer funds and allowing us to finance critical projects at the lowest possible costs to our residents.
Because of our strong fiscal management, a business friendly climate and a focus on entrepreneurship, the county is on the leading edge in Maryland. The Howard County economy, forged through smart decisions, is a MODEL FOR MARYLAND.
More high-quality, cutting-edge and fast-growing businesses are choosing to call Howard County home, and bringing high-wage jobs with them.
ELTA North America, a subsidiary of the Israeli defense company IAI, recently selected Howard County as its headquarters. This is the firm that makes the “Iron Dome” missile defense system that protects Israel from rocket attacks. In the past year, the Iron Dome intercepted more than 400 missiles heading for Israeli air space, and the company’s North America division is working with the U.S. military to bring that same protection wherever it is needed . ELTA searched the country for a location for its new headquarters, and narrowed its choices between Maryland and Virginia. Our economic development team set them up in our business incubator as the company considered its options, and fostered a strong working relationship with their executives. In the end, ELTA picked Howard County, for our strategic location, our commitment to innovation, and because we demonstrated that we care about business in Howard County. Dave Machuga, President and CEO of ELTA North America, I’d like you stand, and thank you for the 100 high-tech workers with an average salary of $110,000 your company is bringing to Maple Lawn.
Howard County continues to leverage its advantages in cyber-security. Even with a reexamination of federal spending and resources in Washington, there is no doubt this field will grow. In fact, the Pentagon just announced that the U.S. Cyber Command based at Fort Meade will be growing five-fold, expanding its focus from defensive measures to become, as the Washington Post put it, “the equivalent of an Internet era fighting-force.” America’s top cybersecurity companies increasingly know that Howard County is where they must be.
That brings me to another new Howard County company -- Accuvant. An international leader in cyber-security, Denver-based Accuvant is one of the fastest growing companies in America. Last year, they acquired a small company in Anne Arundel County and were planning to fold it into their main operations. But after working with our economic development team headed by Laura Neuman, they realized all the advantages of Howard County, and their need to be at the hub of cyber growth. I’m thrilled to announce today that Accuvant is ready to open a major office right here in Howard, adding 180 jobs to the 70 already in Maryland, meaning 250 new jobs to Howard County.
I would like for Frank McLallen of Accuvant, and his team, to stand and be recognized. Thank you, Frank, for investing in Howard County, and for helping to keep our nation safe.
You can’t talk about business development, especially in the high tech and health sectors, without talking about the workforce of the future. Our Howard County Public School System, Howard Community College and our library system all do a terrific job training and connecting our citizens to opportunities, especially in science, technology, engineering and math.
At Howard Community College, we opened the doors to the new Health Sciences Building just a few weeks ago, and we will soon begin construction on a $74 million Science, Engineering and Technology building that will train that workforce. Thank you to Dr. Kate Hetherington, the president of HCC, for your vision, and all you do to train people for critical careers.
Our library system has opened a state-of-the-art digital media lab for middle and high school students in STEM fields. It is a fantastic program, and Valerie Gross, our library director, does a wonderful job preparing for the future.
I am constantly impressed with the talent of the students in Howard County. And I want to take a moment to mention just a few. Gregory Nelson, Josh Choi, Sophia Novacic and Ryan Olson are 8th graders at Lime Kiln Middle School, which is a National Blue Ribbon School of Excellence.
They began working together on a science project for a competition sponsored by the National Center for Earth and Space Science Education, entitled The Effect of Microgravity on Chryseobacterium Aquaticum Growth. Their project was chosen from more than 1,400 submissions across the country as part of the Student Space Flights Experiment Program, and will fly aboard the International Space Station. What an honor. Gregory, Josh, Sophia and Ryan are here today, along with their principal, Scott Conroy. Please stand up. We are very proud of you.
The past year was one of transition for our public school system, with the retirement of Dr. Sidney Cousin and the hiring of a new superintendent, Dr. Renee Foose. Dr. Foose has begun her tenure strongly, demonstrating a passion to make sure our system grows and prospers.
Dr. Foose, please stand for a moment and be recognized. Thank you for your leadership and your partnership.
Dr. Foose and I have begun an effective partnership on several opportunities and challenges, including working together on school safety and making sure the new technology we are bringing into Howard County through the One Maryland Broadband Initiative is utilized to the fullest extent possible in our schools.
And speaking of our broadband network, I am pleased to report that construction is almost complete. Soon we will begin lighting up Higher Speed Internet in schools, public safety buildings, businesses and health care facilities. What does this mean? Our children will get a better education, we will be safer, we will have access to better health care, more private sector jobs will be created and the taxpayers will save money. We are nearly done laying the fiber to make Maryland the most wired state in the nation. This project will improve all of our lives, and it was our leadership that created the MODEL FOR MARYLAND.
From one end of the county to another, the plans we have set in motion for growth and revitalization are taking hold. Downtown Columbia is a great example of that, with new commercial and residential buildings ready to go, mall improvements underway and the addition of Whole Foods to the historic Frank Gehry-designed Rouse Company headquarters. Even Mr. Gehry himself was excited to see our progress.
Plans are underway to turn Symphony Woods into the world-class cultural and arts space that Columbia and Howard County deserve. This project, a partnership of the Columbia Association, the Howard Hughes Corp. and the county government, will bring vitality and excitement to Downtown Columbia, and will create a world-class cultural destination. This project will truly fulfill the vision that Jim Rouse laid out for Columbia, and we must work together to bring it to reality. Thank you, Phil Nelson, and your team at CA, for working so hard on this vision.
Next week, I will accept the first-ever Maryland Sustainable Growth Commission award for our plan for Downtown Columbia. It is an honor that the state is calling this plan a MODEL FOR MARYLAND. I want to express my thanks to the members of the Howard County Council, who worked tirelessly on this plan with us and voted unanimously for it. The Council has been a great partner in our progress.
It is not just private companies and developers that are bringing innovative projects to Howard County.
The Howard County housing commission finished the Monarch Mills mixed-income development, formerly known as Guilford Gardens, and we are nearing completion of Burgess Mill Station, the former Mt. Ida, in Ellicott City. Burgess Mill features a brand new community center, which will open to the public in a few months. The center features an indoor pool, gym, a fitness center, rock climbing wall, track and community rooms to replace the outdated Roger Carter Center.
With a mix of incomes and an array of amenities, these redevelopment projects look better, they fit into their neighborhoods better, and they generate the income needed to make them financially sustainable. It’s another example of the framework for creative problem-solving in Howard that is a MODEL FOR MARYLAND.
Government can and should be a catalyst for innovative ideas, serving as a model, creating possibilities and then getting out of the way, making it easier for the private sector to make strides. As an example, BITHENERGY is embarking on the largest privately owned solar project in Maryland, right here in Howard County. The company is planning to build a solar array that will produce enough power for up to 2,000 homes, at the historic Nixon’s Farm on Route 32. We partnered with BITHENERGY and BITHGROUP Technologies to amend zoning and facilitate other approvals to make this project a reality. BITHENERGY is showing leadership and vision, designing a project which will save agricultural land from development and produce renewable power. I want to introduce you to Carolyn Green, Chief Administrative Officer at BITHENERGY, who is here today. Stand up and be recognized, Carolyn. Thank you for all you do, and thanks to the other Howard-based businesses involved in this project.
I am always pleased with the awards that Howard County receives. For the third year in a row, we were recognized as the healthiest county in Maryland. And we are continuing our leadership in health care by taking our innovative “Door to HealthCare” model to the next level.
Healthy Howard is applying to the state health exchange to become a navigator for a six-county region of the state, under the Affordable Care Act. Our “Door to Healthcare” is a one-stop shop for enrollment and has made getting health care much less complicated for 11,000 county residents by leveraging technology and using creative staffing models. Open enrollment under the Affordable Care Act kicks off in October. This is a huge undertaking and one that we must get right. In Howard County, we have a MODEL FOR MARYLAND to do just that.
Let me conclude with this: it is impossible to stand here and not talk about what is most important for all of us, in government and the private and not-for-profit sectors: our children.
Recent events – like the Newtown shooting – and tragedies right here in the past year – remind us that the lives of our children are precious. But even more than that, they are fragile, and they can be fleeting.
Threats come at us, and at them, from everywhere. From within the home, and on the school bus. Over the Internet, and from video games.
That’s why we are focusing on the effects of bullying, and how to improve school safety. We’ve created a School Safety Task Force with the school system, and we are already developing some new ideas: We need a better reporting and auditing system to track where bullying is taking place, and we have developed ideas to do that which we will be unveiling soon.
That’s also why last year we opened a new Child Advocacy Center as part of the Police Department’s Domestic Violence Unit, to provide better victim services.
We have made improvements in health care; we have begun targeting obesity through the amount of sugar our children consume, in partnership with the Horizon Foundation. We are strengthening our domestic violence services; and we are making sure every child in Howard County – including the 450 homeless students who go to school every day – has a place to call home. We must continue to implement our Plan to End Homelessness.
We cannot protect our youngest Howard County residents from every threat. We can’t build a bubble around their world. But we can create the conditions to minimize those threats.
Because of the strength of our economy and the strength of our people, I know we have the resources and the ability to invest in and improve the lives of our children.
2013 must truly be the year that we PUT CHILDREN FIRST in Howard County. I am asking that everything our departments do, everything that Maryland does, and everything that you do – every day – be done on their behalf.
In Howard County, we will continue to lead by example. And the decisions that we make will continue to be a MODEL FOR OUR FUTURE and a MODEL FOR MARYLAND.
Thank you very much.