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Merkle expands partnership for China advertising


Merkle, a Columbia-based global performance marketing agency, has expanded the landscape of global partnership with Baidu from North America to EMEA, APAC and South America regions. This specialization demonstrates Baidu’s recognition of Merkle’s industry-leading capabilities in advertising as well as its overall status in people-based marketing.

With this broader global partnership with Baidu, Merkle will be appointed as a core reseller in China and Japan to provide Baidu Paid Ads services for brands. In the near future, this partnership will be expanded to many more countries: the United Arab Emirates, Vietnam, Malaysia, Indonesia, Philippines, India, Egypt, Saudi Arabia and Brazil.

As the world’s second-largest economy, China continues to be a hot destination that attracts international businesses, particularly from emerging economies. Baidu, the dominating search engine in China, remains a preferred choice for businesses to raise their brand awareness as they look to rapidly reach out to hundreds of millions of potential customers across the country.

“Over the years, we’ve been working hand-in-hand with Baidu for US brands expanding their footprints in China,” said Zhengda “Z” Shen, president, Merkle Asia Pacific. “[This] announcement is another important step forward to strengthen our collaborations. It enables us to access and serve a broader international market. We believe our assets and expertise will help create a strong competitive advantage for our clients by winning more mindshare, as well as market share, in the China market.”

Vision Innovation Partners acquires Washington Eye Specialists


Vision Innovation Partners, of Annapolis, has acquired Washington Eye Specialists, an ophthalmology practice in Washington, D.C. The acquisition further expands Vision Innovation Partners’ growing network of ophthalmology practices in the mid-Atlantic region, which includes a Select Eye Care location in Elkridge.

Vision Innovation Partners’ acquisition of Washington Eye Specialists – its ninth in just two years – demonstrates its continued commitment to recruiting top-performing doctors and expanding patient access to care across its growing network of practice locations and surgery centers in the Mid-Atlantic.

“Vision Innovation Partners has a strong reputation for clinical excellence across the mid-Atlantic region and we are delighted to benefit from the shared resources of a fully integrated ophthalmology platform,” said Dr. Cameron Ghafouri of Washington Eye Specialists.

DOE taps APL for quantum computing


The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL), in North Laurel, has been tapped by the Department of Energy to develop advanced quantum computing and networking technologies. The award is part of larger DOE effort to address basic research gaps in the ideas, methods and tools that connect quantum computing applications to hardware.

“We are still in the early stages of quantum computing. We have still not achieved quantum advantage, the point at which quantum computers outperform classical computers,” said Dave Clader, a theoretical physicist and principal investigator of the APL research team. “Despite this, hardware is scaling up and more near-term applications are being considered that may finally push us into the realm where quantum advantage is demonstrated.”

Because of this promise, Clader continued, there has been a considerable amount of research into algorithms and software development. “Unlike classical computing – where the hardware can be abstracted from a software engineer – an algorithm designer for near-term quantum hardware must have detailed knowledge of the underlying hardware, noise characteristics and architecture,” he said.

APL researchers – under an effort called TEAM, or Tough Errors Are no Match: Optimizing the Quantum Compiler for Noise Resilience – will explore advanced noise characterization and mitigation techniques, focusing on models that can be easily incorporated into quantum compilers in a hardware-agnostic manner.

“Uncontrolled noise is currently limiting quantum computers from reaching their full potential,” said Clader. “We are looking to integrate noise combating protocols into quantum compilers. This will enable quantum programmers to write noise-resilient quantum algorithms in an automated fashion that does not require the algorithm designer to understand the detailed noise characteristics of the hardware.”

‘Busboys & Poets’ Coming to Columbia


Howard County will soon welcome the largest Busboys & Poets restaurant in the chain, and the first in the Baltimore region, to the Merriweather District in Downtown Columbia.

The new 10,700-square-foot, two-story location will bring the Washington, D.C.-based restaurant, bookstore and event space into the forthcoming mixed-use neighborhood being built by the Howard Hughes Corp. (HHC). Busboys & Poets currently has seven locations across the Washington Metropolitan area and is a cultural hub for artists and activists, as well as a highly rated restaurant.

The Busboys & Poets will be a stand-alone, two-story building featuring indoor and outdoor seating, all-day dining options and a curated book collection. The store will showcase books and authors, on a local and national level, who have contributed to conversations around social change. The grand opening of the Merriweather District is scheduled for fall 2020.

“The [new] Columbia, Maryland, Busboys & Poets will be our largest and most exciting location, serving as a regional gathering space where people can celebrate literature, arts, politics, our award-winning bookstore and critically acclaimed conscious cuisine,” said Andy Shallal, Busboys & Poets owner and founder. “The area’s rich arts heritage, and history of inclusiveness and progressivism, played a significant role in our decision to build our largest location in Merriweather District. We are looking forward to using the increased space to host larger events and gatherings that we hope will enrich the community and be a draw for our Baltimore and D.C. neighbors, in addition to the local Columbia residents.”

“For years we have admired Busboys & Poets’ civic-minded business model and believe it is truly a perfect fit for our community of Columbia, founded on the pillars of progress and innovation,” said Greg Fitchitt, president, Columbia, of HHC, who added that the move represents a “big leap” for Shallal to come from a place with the density of D.C. to Columbia. “He’s had big name people [at his D.C. locations] many times and I can’t wait to see who’s coming here.”

Groundbreaking is set for Sept. 25, at 1 p.m. Busboys & Poets is slated to open late 2020.

Martirano presents capital budgets


Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) Superintendent Michael Martirano presented his Proposed Capital Budget for school year 2020-21 (fiscal 2021), fiscal 2022-26 Capital Improvement Program and fiscal 2021-30 Long-Range Master Plan during a recent Board of Education meeting.

The board has scheduled a public hearing on the fiscal 2021 Capital Budget and fiscal 2022-26 Capital Improvement Program during its Sept. 19, at 7 p.m. meeting.

Based on information provided by the county for likely bond appropriations for HCPSS, two Capital Budget scenarios were presented. The first scenario reviewed an originally planned proposal based on last year’s board decisions and the second took into account new projections by the county of approximately $41 million-$47 million in capital funding for the school system. The proposals address projected student capacity and existing facility needs in order to relieve crowded schools and support rapid enrollment growth within the anticipated budget allocation.

The first scenario reviewed an originally planned proposal based on last year’s school board decisions and included the funding requests for the Talbott Springs Elementary replacement and Hammond High renovation and addition. It also requested funding to begin the planning for New ES#43 and the Dunloggin Middle renovation and addition as well as other construction projects. This scenario would have a total Capital Budget request of $135.7 million.

The second scenario proposes a $56 million Capital Budget, $399.6 million Capital Improvement Program and $775 million Long-Range Master Plan that prioritizes costs for construction of New High School #13, scheduled to open in September 2023. This project is scheduled to proceed as originally planned and is required because the combined capacity of all high schools will begin to exceed 110% utilization by 2022.

Considering the available funding, the superintendent recommended the second scenario. This recommendation changes the completion schedule for the Talbott Springs Elementary and Hammond High projects, originally scheduled for groundbreaking in June 2020 and October 2020, respectively. A commitment of funds would be needed by January 2020 and June 2020 in order to keep to the original schedule.

The lower than anticipated funding also impacts certain projects included in the Long-Range Master Plan and would be delayed from their original completion dates. The Long-Range Master Plan has been amended to reflect the bonding growth projected by the county budget office. This possibility was discussed with the County Council during the council’s April 29 work session. The changes to the completion schedule would be as follows:

Talbott Springs Elementary replacement: from SY2022 to SY2027
Hammond High renovation and addition: from SY2023 to SY2026
New Elementary School #43: from SY2024 to SY2028
Dunloggin Middle renovation and addition: from SY2024 to SY2030
Oakland Mills Middle renovation and addition: from SY2026 to SY2030
New Elementary School #44: from SY2026 to SY2031
Centennial High renovation and addition: from SY2028 to TBD
New High School #14: from SY2028 to TBD
New Elementary School #45: from SY2030 to TBD

The superintendent’s presentation was immediately followed by a board of education budget work session.

Ball speaks on school redistricting


Howard County Executive Calvin Ball has released the following statement on Howard County Public School System Superintendent Michael Martirano’s proposed school redistricting plan:

“I am appreciative of Superintendent Michael Martirano’s intent to address the pressing issue of school overcrowding and I am confident that through respectful dialogue and a transparent, inclusive process, a plan will be produced that values the importance of socioeconomic diversity while keeping communities together, to the extent possible. We need thoughtful, comprehensive redistricting that will help foster the best teaching and learning environment for our children and educators.

“I recognize this is a sensitive matter that may impact families in many different ways and it’s important that all residents have a chance to lend their voices to this important conversation and speak directly to the Board of Education as they continue with their deliberations.

“The Board of Education will be holding three public hearings so that they may hear from the public. All public hearings will be held at the Department of Education (10910 Clarksville Pike, Ellicott City) with satellite rooms available for overflow. Pre-registration is required and may be done by phone (410-313-7346, 1584, or 7194) or in person. Please note that there will be no online pre-registration and no registration will be permitted on site at the hearing. If you have not done so already, please mark your calendars and plan to testify at the appropriate public hearing:

Public Hearing, Tuesday, Sept. 17 at 7 p.m.

Region I (Only families currently zoned for Centennial, Howard, Mt. Hebron and Oakland Mills high schools, and feeders) 

Public Hearing, Tuesday, Sept. 24 at 7 p.m.

Region II (Only families currently zoned for at Atholton, Hammond, Long Reach and Wilde Lake, and feeders)

Pre-registration open Sept. 3, 8 a.m.–Sept. 23, 4 p.m.

Public Hearing, Thursday, Sept. 26 at 7 p.m.

Region III (only families currently zoned for at Glenelg, Marriotts Ridge, Reservoir and River Hill, and feeders)

Pre-registration open Sept. 5, 8 a.m.–Sept. 25, 4 p.m. 

Testimony can also be provided by emailing redistricting@hcpss.org. More information is available at www.hcpss.org/school-planning/boundary-review/public-hearings

“As any decisions regarding redistricting are solely within the purview of the Board of Education, neither I nor any other elected official who is not on the Board of Education has an opportunity to vote on Dr. Martirano’s school redistricting plan. Given its overall impact on our county, and as a father with two daughters in our public schools, please know I will continue to closely monitor the process.”

Mini Maker Faire set for Columbia


Downtown Columbia Mini Maker Faire, the second annual celebration of innovation and creativity scheduled, is slated for Sunday, Oct. 13, at Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods. From engineers to artists to scientists to crafters, Maker Faire is a venue for “makers” to exhibit hobbies, experiments and projects.

The Inner Arbor Trust, Downtown Columbia Partnership, Howard County Department of Recreation and Parks, Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission, and Howard County Tech Council are co-hosting the event, which is independently produced under a license from Make Community, which licenses Faires worldwide.

As the event is focused on technology, Tracy Turner, executive director of the Howard County Tech Council, said, “Downtown Columbia Mini Maker Faire empowers students, teachers and families to explore creativity in all its forms and drives a much-needed interest in STEM fields. This annual event is setting new directions in education and turns the community into makers, not just consumers.”

The event is free to attend, but tickets are required via downtowncolumbia.makerfaire.com.

HCC unveils collaborative learning spaces


In time for the fall semester, Howard Community College (HCC) celebrated the reopening of its newly renovated Academic Commons and Howard Hall with a ribbon cutting ceremony on Aug. 19.

At approximately 107,204 square feet, the two buildings now feature modern classrooms, innovative laboratories, and learning spaces specifically designed with collaboration in mind.

“What makes this project stand out is that these buildings will serve so many of our students … who cannot wait to start opening their own restaurants and event planning businesses, to those who dream of [working on] an ancient archaeological dig, or joining the Howard County Police Department, teaching children in Howard County’s elementary schools, or serving as a counselor to families in crisis,” said Kate Hetherington, HCC president. “All of these students will find their academic home here … [as well as] a vibrant student life and academic support and enrichment.”

The features of the Academic Commons include instructional support spaces for the social sciences and teacher education areas, including an anthropology undergraduate research lab, early childhood education and teacher labs, and a mock trial room for criminal justice courses.

The Nicholas B. and Mary C. Mangione/Turf Valley Resort Hospitality and Culinary Suite not only features state-of-the-art kitchen equipment, but also provides a production kitchen that will provide students with the opportunity to cook and learn hospitality skills in a future student-operated restaurant.

Structured Support

At the Nicholas B. and Mary C. Mangione/Lorien Health Systems Simulation Suite in Howard Hall, continuing education students training to become certified nursing assistants or seeking advanced patient care skills can do so in a dedicated space with modern beds, equipment and training dummies.

Additionally, Howard Hall includes the Clare E. McHugh Honors Commons that brings together all the college’s honors programs in one location and provides space for Howard P.R.I.D.E. and Silas Craft Collegians.

“We’re an academic support and mentor program for minority men of color … but we are inclusive to everybody,” said Terrell Bratcher, coordinator of the Howard P.R.I.D.E. program. “We pay particular attention to developmental math, college level math and the sciences, and plan on using this space for students to get away from the lab area and have their own space to work, study or have one-on-one interaction.”

Silas Craft Collegians assists member students looking to improve or maximize their academic potential through personal coaching and academic support, said Jarrell Anderson, the program’s director, serving approximately 75 students each year in three different cohorts.

The Academic Commons, meanwhile, feature two specialized early childhood and elementary education classrooms equipped with the same smart technology that teachers are expected to use in the Howard County Public School System.

“These were all fairly dated spaces before,” said Laura Cripps, a professor of Anthropology who oversees HCC’s Anthropology Undergraduate Research Lab where students frequently assist the Maryland Historical Society with excavations and surveys and conduct archaeological research.

Real World Classroom

HCC’s culinary and hospitality programming gets a major boost from a uniquely designed teaching environment that will also benefit people outside the program.

“In our A la Carte Production program, culinary students will learn the functions of a restaurant kitchen while we’re running a dining room class for hospitality students in the front of the house at the same time,” explained David Milburn, coordinator of HCC’s Baking and Pastry Program. “I can teach you how to make a hamburger, but it’s a thoroughly different world when you’ve got tickets coming in fast.”

The student-run operation will eventually provide a sit-down, waitered lunch option for faculty, other students and special college guests several days a week, delivering real-world experience to students while they learn.

Nearby, HCC’s new specialized Baking Kitchen is the result of five years of planning and consultations with designers and architects. Forward-thinking amenities include go-pro cameras inside large demonstration mixers to provide good widescreen views to everybody attending a lecture and four streamlined workstations providing three-person teams with dedicated pots, pans, appliances and utensils to minimize unnecessary trips across a busy teaching kitchen.

Students will have access to some of the most modern commercial equipment on the market in all areas of the kitchen.

The baking program’s unpaid support staff includes 120,000 honeybees occupying four hives on campus, which are expected to yield about 30 pounds of honey this year. According to Milburn, any leftover honey would be donated to a food pantry, with some of it being sold to help fund culinary student scholarships.


“As a former instructor here … I have seen first-hand how the programs at HCC impact the lives of its students and uplift all of Howard County for our residents,” said Boyd Rutherford, Maryland’s Lieutenant Governor, who was on hand for the ceremony. “[They] give our residents the skills to be successful in our 21st century economy and contribute to a vibrant community.”

The Academic Commons and Howard Hall project began in fiscal year 2015, with Howard County and the state of Maryland sharing the $43.4 million cost of renovation.

“It’s a testament to how community colleges are changing and evolving with the times,” noted Clarence Lam, Maryland State Senator for District 12, adding that enrollment has skyrocketed since the recession. “We’re up to almost 30,000 current students … and are looking at about 40,000 students by 2030. With the rough economic waters we’re seeing, enrollment may continue to increase.”

Moreover, he said, a growing number of older workers are interested in retooling their skills or are looking to HCC for additional programming or hobbies.

“It is clear that we are not celebrating just the physical building of these structures,” said Liz Walsh, Howard County’s District 1 Councilwoman. “We’re celebrating building our future and the next generation of scholars.”

On-the-go snacks getting healthier–County requires options


Vending machines in Howard County will have new selections beginning in October.

As a result of a law approved in 2015, vending machines will include healthy food and beverage options.

The contract for vending machines in Howard County government buildings will be announced on Friday, Sept. 13.

This marks the first vending machine contract renewal since passage of the law.

The contract will adhere to the nutritional standards requiring healthy food and beverages on county properties and for county programs.

The winning bidder will cover 84 vending machines – 52 with refrigerated products, 29 with snacks and three with heated foods or beverages.

What’s the law say? New vending machines on Howard County government property must include at least 75 percent healthy snacks and drinks, and offer water, fruit and vegetable juices and non-fat and low-fat milk.

The vending machines will include snacks with no trans-fat, no more than 200 calories per package, and less than 35 percent of calories from fat.

“Even though Howard County is in the top ten healthiest jurisdictions in the country, we still have work to do to get to number one and be the example of health and wellness for all,” said Howard County Executive Calvin Ball. “Among our Howard County neighbors earning under $50,000, over 40 percent eat fewer than one serving per day of fruit or vegetables.”

The Howard County plan reflects a larger trend in an industry that has been rapidly changing to help consumers figure out better options when they need an on-the-go snack.

Not your mother’s Coke machine

Nationwide, vending machines are a $25 billion business with more than five million machines. Local entrepreneur Larry Pellerito, who founded Columbia-based Achieve Vending as a part-time operation in 1992, switched to full-time in 1995.

“Vending machines have gotten healthier in the past few years because more people are demanding healthier options, and more manufactures are offering healthier products,” Pellerito said.

The machines are not only healthier, but they’ve gotten a lot more high-tech.
“At Achieve Vending, all of our vending machines are equipped with credit card readers that also take Apple or Samsung pay from any wireless device,” said Pellerito. “This technology allows us to monitor stock usage in real time and avoids machines running out of key products.”

On the rise are “micro markets,” or unattended retail environments, where consumers can engage with products on shelves and in open coolers, allowing them to pick up products and review nutrition information.

Consumers use a self-checkout kiosk with a cashless payment system – they pay by credit card, company card or by thumbprint.

Is snacking the new dining?

At the National Automatic Merchandising Association, where the motto is “Snacking is the New Dining,” a flagship program called Fit Pick was established in 2005, and periodically updates its guidelines to reflect new recommendations in nutrition.

The program promotes clear labeling and easy-to-understand nutrition information, particularly for calories and sodium.

All branches of the U.S. military and U.S. government have adopted the Fit Pick program for their vending machines.

Throughout the U.S., the convenience services industry provides 140,000 jobs with $7.21 billion in wages and pays $3.5 billion taxes at every level of government.

Q&A with Lou Zagarino – Meet the BWI Business District Icon


The name of Lou Zagarino is synonymous with the BWI Business District. Few people have invested as much time, money and energy into building businesses in that submarket – or have as many stories about what the landscape looked like as it was growing as well as the hopes for its continued success.

What was your introduction to the BWI Business District?

I followed a college friend here from Michigan State University, after a stint in the U.S. Navy, to work in a restaurant group.

I got into the hotel business in 1971 at what is now the DoubleTree by Hilton Baltimore-BWI Airport on Elkridge Landing Road. It was one of the two hotels in what we now call the BWI Business District. The other was the Friendship Hotel which I moved over to in 1972 and stayed with until its ownership was sold in 1980.

My next move was to a restaurant in North Linthicum, Lancer’s, which I eventually bought and renamed The Rose; then I established the Comfort Inn, which is still there, and eventually the adjacent Sleep Inn (now a Best Western). Our company sold all three businesses in 2008.

What is a solid occupancy rate?

There are variances for different hotels but generally, 69 percent is what you need to be profitable.

What was different about being the only solo owner/operator in the BWI submarket when you owned the Comfort Inn (1984-2012) and the Sleep Inn (2002-2012), especially when all of the big chains moved in?

The difference is that the success of the property was on me – not the company, the stockholders or corporate. There were some very difficult times in the early years of our ownership. However, that also allowed me to make decisions out-of-the-box and to adjust to the market and to become more involved in the community and have opportunities to participate in, and contribute to, various causes.

Did you ever dream this submarket would grow so large?

Absolutely not. I knew it would grow but in 1980, BWI Airport served two million passengers per year; now it serves 27 million per year. Today, airport officials think that number will increase to more than 30 million in the not-too-distant future and are predicting 40 million eventually. So, the sky’s the limit. I knew that the District had a phenomenal future, but not to this degree.

Do you ever wonder what the BWI Business District would be if Southwest Airlines hadn’t put down stakes here in 1993?

I have but similar experiments were previously undertaken that were not successful. We had Laker, Texas International and Icelandair, among several other low-cost airlines, come in and out of BWI Marshall. Even if they had had success, we still wouldn’t have had 27 million passengers come through here last year.

Also, before state and local governmental agencies were increasingly present, a small group of stakeholders often went on promotional marketing trips to sell the airport.

What is the strength of the hotels at BWI?

It’s a tremendous market due to all of our businesses, industries and government entities in the area as well as being inside the “Golden Triangle” of the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area, through Howard County to Baltimore, south to Annapolis, then back to D.C.

When you owned hotel properties and The Rose, how many nights did you sleep with one eye open?

Every night. There are very few good calls you can get after 2 a.m. Thankfully, that situation improved as the business matured.

What are your thoughts on building a new hotel at BWI Marshall?

For more than two decades I’ve been on record that the Maryland Aviation Administration should build a hotel at the airport. The bottom line is that it’s a huge, expensive and complicated project.

What do you tell young people who want to get into the hotel industry?

It can be a great business but expect long hours of hard and often tedious work. And know that, while dealing with the public is often not easy, the business can be extremely rewarding.

What are your favorite career memories?

One is certainly that both of my hotels won Hotel of the Year in the early ’00s for the whole Choice Hotels chain. Others include meeting officials from Southwest Airlines, including CEO Herb Kelleher, with elected officials, state aviation representatives and business leaders. That deal took several years before it finally happened.

What organizations do you recall working with the most fondly?

Serving on the boards of different organizations including Visit Annapolis and Anne Arundel County, Hospice of the Chesapeake, the Anne Arundel County Mental Health Agency, UM Baltimore Washington Medical Center, the University of Maryland Medical System, Skål Club International and the BWI Business Partnership.

Also, the Muscular Dystrophy Association (MDA) for the golf tournament I held in Queenstown Harbor (Upper Eastern Shore) for more than 20 years, the inspiration for which was my struggle with myasthenia gravis – which is a neuromuscular disease. I’ve been lucky in dealing with it, as some people with the disorder are bound to wheelchairs. All told, we raised more than $1 million for the MDA.

What’s coming up for you?

I’m planning on staying involved. The word “retirement” doesn’t mean much to me at the moment but I do want to reduce my commitments.

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