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THE STATE OF THE WORKFORCE

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New commerce secretary promotes Maryland’s future

Kelly Schulz, Maryland’s new secretary of commerce, has been on the job for little more than two months and she’s preparing for the 21st century.

“Maryland has many business-friendly assets, first and foremost of which is Governor Hogan’s commitment to our state being Open for Business,” she said, describing why Maryland is a business-friendly state.

Schulz, previously secretary of labor, licensing and regulation, served in the House of Delegates for District 4, which includes Frederick and Carroll counties. She replaced the popular R. Michael Gill Jan. 1.

She said, “We’re fortunate that Maryland has world-class research universities, numerous federal laboratories and facilities, and major military installations. Our universities are outstanding sources of talent, and that’s one of the reasons why Maryland’s workforce is one of the most highly-educated in the country.”

Those universities, labs, and military bases serve as launch pads for discoveries and innovative technologies that fuel private-sector business growth, and they employ the services of an array of contractors and private companies, noted Schulz.
Schulz urged businesses to check out the state’s efforts related to access to capital, training for incumbent workers, tax credits for hiring new employees and guidance on site selection.

“We also offer a variety of incentives to make sure that businesses – from brand-new startups to family-owned small businesses to major corporations – have the resources they need to succeed.”

Out of the gate

Schulz plans to build on the solid foundation that her predecessor began. “Partnering with other state agencies, my goal is to make sure that every company, in every region of the state, has access to the resources they need to expand here or to set up shop in Maryland,” she said.

Schulz said she sees a demand for even more talented and skilled workers. “All jobs today are 21st century jobs,” she said. “We have in place several programs to help ensure that our workforce – men and women who are smart, passionate and ready to learn – are able to acquire new skills.”

The rise of technology has impacted even those jobs in so-called “traditional” fields, she added, increasing the demand for workers with a science, technology, engineering or math (STEM) education or background. “It’s imperative that STEM instruction begin at an early age,” she said.

It’s time to let go of the perception that only those jobs in healthcare, biotech, cybersecurity and similar fields are the jobs of the future, she said. “We need workers in every occupation and every field. We need plumbers and electricians as much as we need pharmacists, engineers, and scientists.”

The skills may be different but they all require knowledge of and skills in STEM fields, Schulz said.

“We’re looking at all jobs and all occupations, knowing that as they evolve to meet the needs of the 21st century – and beyond – so, too must the workforce evolve to fill those positions,” she said. “We’re taking steps to ensure that 21st century fields have a 21st century workforce.”

How work is changing

Schulz, who has studied the workforce in rural, suburban and urban settings over the years, believes a strong workforce depends on ensuring a variety of jobs are available and accessible throughout the state. “We’ve traditionally seen more technical jobs and a more diverse offering of jobs in urban areas, and more skilled trades in rural areas,” she said. “Yet as we see every day, work as we know it is changing.”

The key is to approach workforce development from several angles that can be applied in any setting, she said. “Training is a major component of this approach, as are degree and literacy programs. An essential component of all of these efforts is engaging employers.”

What’s next for historic Laurel?

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The City of Laurel is at an significant juncture in its history.

Recently, Pure Hana Synergy retracted a much-discussed application to redevelop the Tastee Diner site at 118 Washington Boulevard and turn it into a medical cannabis dispensary.

The diner has been owned since 1976 by Gene Wilkes. He also owns the attached (and recently shuttered) TD Lounge, an adjacent small hotel and a small residence on the property, which is located in a blighted area in the median of Route 1 – about a block from Main Street and just across from the MARC station.

The site, which has been a diner since 1951, also lies less than a mile south from another medical cannabis dispensary that’s just over the Howard County line. However, the city’s municipal code states that dispensaries must be at least a mile from each other and also cannot be within 1,000 feet of a public or private school or a church.

“Those facts made the Pure Hana effort illegal, anyway,” said Richard Friend, a native and one of the Laurel History Boys, a civic group. In addition, another dispensary will soon open (barely) a mile south of the diner in Tower Plaza, at Route 1 and Cherry Lane.

With the diner back up for sale, questions abound about rejuvenating that area. They include how the diner, a historic Commack model, might be relocated to a Main Street that features some nice attractions, but lacks the sizzle to become the destination the locals want it to be.

Low Vacancy

Pure Hana yanking its application in January for the diner presents new opportunities, said Friend.

“It would fit perfectly in the vacant lot where Petrucci’s Dinner Theatre used to be,” he said. “Now, the city can take advantage of its availability. I think the city [considers] that section of Route 1 as a blighted, and occasionally crime-riddled area that it wants to renovate.”

Robert Love, deputy director of the city’s Department of Economic and Community Development. Love said how Main Street would integrate into the Tastee Diner area is “in our bigger scheme of having Main Street branch out. We want to make Laurel a destination, and more than a suburb between Baltimore and Washington with a dual train stop.”

He noted that, “Anything new that happens at Laurel Park would have impact on what goes on on Main Street, which is about a mile away from [the horse racing track’s] back entrance.”

While the city has not engaged outside consultants, last October it garnered Maryland Main Street designation, which allows access to grants and advertising. “For now, one of our focuses is Main Street, which has a 4 percent vacancy rate,” said Love. “Later, we’ll branch off to the diner area,” which is also where the old Sportsman’s Club has been renovated to about 7,000 square feet of retail and office space.

He added that he understands why people are so attached to the diner, “but from our planning and zoning perspective, we had to ensure that it met the criteria for the use of medical cannabis. It did,” he said. “That’s why we recommended approval.”

Due Diligence?

Despite Love’s comments, Carl DeWalt, city councilman for Ward 1, agreed with Friend that the Pure Hana effort was for naught.

Since Pure Hana pulled its application, that will hopefully give us some time and, as a group, we can find some solutions and save the structure,” he said, “either where it is or by moving it to Main Street.”

Karen Lubieniecki, board chair for the Laurel Historical Society, said, “From our standpoint, I’m glad that we got a reprieve, especially given that the diner is [an historic] Commack model.

“There are a lot of people who are interested in saving at least the aluminum part of it, at least as a sight,” she said.

‘Not Much Left’

As for the city purchasing the property, “Its default response is that it doesn’t have the money, even though I don’t think they’ve looked into the cost,” said Friend, noting that the Laurel History Boys are thinking of creating a nonprofit, “to give us more leverage. But there are groups that are eager to help, like Preservation Maryland, which voiced its interest to me, in addition to Main Street Maryland.”

Main Street and the diner represent “pieces of Laurel’s history and there isn’t much left,” Friend said. “If you went to Laurel, what would you tell people you saw?”

For Friend, today is about this new opportunity for the diner and to accentuate the offerings on Main Street, with more varied offerings “and perhaps with a small grocery store, like Trader Joe’s.

“The diner is still relevant, but there’s a better use for it. I don’t expect the city to run it,” he said, “but they can help find somebody maybe even someone who’s operating on Main Street.”

Going Gold–Businesses build muscle for the Special Olympics

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Two area residents will soon be on their way to the Special Olympic World Games in Abu Dhabi.

In addition to their hard work and conditioning, local businesses have helped make it possible for these two athletes to join more than 7,500 others from over 190 countries who will compete in 24 different individual and team sports at the 2019 games from March 14-21.

Columbia resident Jena Jones has been training and competing with the Special Olympics since 2002. Now in her mid-30s, she’s most proud of landing one gold and three silver medals at the 2018 National Special Olympics in Seattle in July 2018.

After more than two decades, she can still say she loves swimming, though she acknowledges that, sometimes, she has to remind herself it’s about the joy of competition.

“I think the hardest aspect of competing and practicing is when you mess up your stroke, or do the wrong stroke,” she said. “You have to say to yourself that it’s about doing your best and having fun.”

Another local Special Olympics veteran, 28-year-old Charles Gaines from Jessup, will also travel to Abu Dhabi to compete in track and field. He earned a gold medal in the 400-meter run in Seattle.

Gaines works as a courtesy clerk at Safeway, a job he’s held for 17 years.

A growing field

“Special Olympics is offered at no cost to the athletes,” explained Marilyn Miceli, assistant director for Special Olympics Maryland Howard County.. “Costs for training sites, uniforms, and travel have increased, as have our athlete numbers. Each Special Olympics county program must raise their own funds to run the program in their area,”
Special Olympics Howard County recently received a one-time $38,800 grant from CarMax Laurel Toyota. The grant is part of the CarMax’s regional giving program focusing on children’s healthy living.

In addition to their financial support, the associates of CarMax Laurel Toyota volunteer at Special Olympics Howard County’s annual Inspiration Walk as well at various one-day competitions.

“CarMax associates know the importance of being a good neighbor and make it a priority to give back to the communities where we live and work,” said Tom Webb, location general manager of CarMax Laurel Toyota. “The Special Olympics Howard County is a great community partner and we are honored to award them with this grant.”

CarMax is one of many businesses who support the Special Olympics, which relies heavily on such support to provide the funds needed for year-round sports training and competitions for children and adults with intellectual and developmental disabilities.

Special Olympics Howard County offers 20 different sports in addition to a Motor Activities Training Program at Cedar Lane School and a new effort, the Young Athletes Program for children under 8 years of age.

Young Athletes introduces basic sports skills such as running, kicking and throwing through a curriculum available to families, teachers and caregivers.

Volunteer-driven

On April 27, Special Olympics Howard County will hold its annual Inspiration Walk – a tradition observed by many local Special Olympics organizations – at Centennial Park.
The walk raises about 50 percent of Special Olympics Howard County’s annual operating budget and, since the organization is volunteer-driven, these donations directly impact the athletes.

Miceli said the Special Olympics is still looking for sponsors. “We also look for direct donations, in-kind donations of gift cards, raffle prize donations, and fundraiser prizes,” she said.

“The donations can be for general support, for a specific competition or sport, or for our annual Inspiration Walk. In addition, Nearly 25 percent of Special Olympics Howard County’s revenue comes through in-kind services or product donations, including sports equipment and gift certificates, web design and assistance, and facility usage. Businesses are also welcome to provide volunteers for special events and competitions,” said Miceli.

Miceli said she wishes more businesses would bring teams of people to volunteer for the Special Olympics. “By engaging in team building activities, employee morale will go up and people will see their employers as caring members of the community.”

Annapolis Film Festival Begins Thursday, March 21

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The 7th annual Annapolis Film Festival will take place Thursday, March 21 through Sunday, March 24, at four venues in Annapolis. The festival will bring more than 70 films from all over the world to the state capital, and Lee Anderson and Patti White, the event’s co-founders, will bring approximately 100 visiting filmmakers and industry guests to the festival.

For some of the films, the subjects and/or filmmakers will be on hand for discussion. The festival also offers special showcases, including the African-American Experience Showcase, Jewish Experience, Student Showcase, Sailing/Boating Showcase and the Environmental Showcase.

The 2019 Annapolis Film Festival will kick off with the Red Carpet at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts, with Hollywood guests and other notables. The opening night film will be a new release, The Public, starring and directed by Emilio Esteves. The event will include a Q&A with special guests to be hosted by former New York Daily News Film Critic Joe Neumaier.

This year’s poster art pays homage to our fellow Annapolitans who were murdered at the Capital-Gazette shootings last June; in tribute the festival’s theme this year is “Truth in Storytelling” to honoring storytellers and journalists who pursue the truth. For more information, visit http://annapolisfilmfestival.com.

New Legislation for Debris Removal from Streams to Prevent New Flooding

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Howard County Executive Calvin Ball has pre-filed legislation that, if passed, will allow county workers to access streams on private property to remove debris that has the potential to cause flooding. As part of his Ellicott City Safe and Sound plan announced in December, Ball mandated more frequent inspections of streams, but those inspections are only on public property due to the limitations of current law.

The legislation empowers the county Department of Public Works to enter any building, structure, or premises to inspect streams and other waterways for debris, or to remove natural and man-made obstructions which could impede the passage of water during future rain events.

“The county will continue to negotiate with individual property owners for quick access to the location of debris,” said Jim Irvin, director of the Howard County Department of Public Works. “We believe this legislation will help to facilitate that process.”

The second part of the legislation clarifies existing authority for the county to prevent any illegal dumping. To learn more about the Ellicott City Safe and Sound program, visit www.ecsafeandsound.org.

COLA Receives Deeming Authority for Another Six Years

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The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has renewed deeming authority for Columbia-based COLA, a private, nonprofit laboratory accreditation organization accrediting clinical laboratories nationwide, for another six years under the Clinical Laboratory Improvement Amendments of 1988 (CLIA 88).

Six years is the maximum period an accrediting organization can be given deeming authority before its next renewal period. COLA was approved to accredit the following CLIA-regulated specialties and subspecialties: Microbiology, including Bacteriology, Mycobacteriology, Mycology, Parasitology, and Virology; Diagnostic Immunology, including Syphilis Serology and General Immunology; Chemistry, including Routine Chemistry, Urinalysis, Endocrinology, and Toxicology; Hematology; and Immunohematology, including ABO Group and Rh Group, Antibody Detection, Antibody Identification and Compatibility Testing.

COLA accredits clinical laboratories operating in many different settings including hospitals, physician offices, rural and community clinics, student centers, health fairs, ambulatory surgery centers, health maintenance organizations, health care systems, federally qualified health centers, and nursing facilities, as well as independent laboratories.

Ball Announces Major Commitments to Climate Action

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Howard County Executive Calvin Ball recently announced a series of environmental commitments intended to move the county forward in environmental sustainability, reduce emissions and stem the causes of climate change. At the event, Ball announced the following actions.

  • Howard County will be a signatory of the “We Are Still In” declaration, a promise to world leaders that Americans will not retreat from the global pact to reduce emissions and stem the causes of climate change.
  • Howard County is the first county in the nation to formally accept the United States Climate Alliance’s Natural and Working Lands Challenge, which calls on jurisdictions to reduce emissions and increase carbon sequestration.
  • For its strong commitment to climate action, Howard County has been named a Maryland Smart Energy Community by the Maryland Energy Administration.
  • Expansion of the curbside food scraps collections area that will include almost 10,000 additional homes to the program.

“It will be on all of us to continue to lead by example in the fight against climate change,” said Ball. “As your County Executive, I pledge bold leadership to make Howard County a safe and healthy place for generations to come. The Maryland Commission on Climate Change (MCCC) reports that our state is already seeing the effects of a rapidly changing climate, posing a threat to the health, security and prosperity of our communities. From these threats, there is also opportunity ― opportunity to support a green economy in Howard County where our residents receive training and gain critical skills that enable them to be successful in the green jobs of the future.”

The Paris Agreement, now signed by more than 180 countries, is a landmark climate agreement calling for global action, with a specific goal of keeping temperature rise this century below two degrees Celsius. In 2017, President Trump indicated his intention to withdraw from the Paris Agreement. Almost immediately, a bi-partisan coalition of mayors, governors, and business leaders declared they were “still in” ― steadfast in their commitment to the global pact to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and slow the effects of climate change.

Howard County has signed on to the declaration and will aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions of County government operations 45% below 2010 levels by the year 2030 and reach zero emissions by 2050. This will be accomplished by reducing county energy use, lowering its fuel consumption, and increasing renewable energy generation on County property. To learn more, visit www.wearestillin.com/organization/howard-county-md.

Pittman Unveils Arundel County Transition Report

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More than 200 volunteers contributed to Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman’s recently released transition report. The 20-page report includes 63 broad recommendations, with a total of 298 action items in the subcommittee reports.

Recommendations included adding some key management positions within county government, increasing staffing levels for teachers and public safety personnel, adopting new technologies to improve efficiency, increasing community engagement and instilling better collaboration among departments and partners. The report is available at www.aacounty.org/departments/county-executive/transition/index.html.

In a departure from traditional transition team structure, Pittman’s transition committees focused on communities, rather than specific county departments. The seven committees were: Safe Communities, Healthy Communities, Thriving Communities, Empowered Communities, Educated Communities, Sustainable Communities and Responsive Government.

Overall, the report noted that county residents want to be engaged in local government. It also indicated that they want better access to information, more opportunities for public participation and a chance to help shape decisions. The transition, which was led by former County Executive Janet Owens and former County Councilmember Chris Trumbauer, included more than 200 volunteers who spent more than 5,000 hours of time contributing to its creation.

Ball Releases Spending Affordability Advisory Committee Report

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Howard County Executive Calvin Ball has released the Spending Affordability Advisory Committee Report for fiscal 2020. In December 2018, Ball renewed the committee through Executive Order, giving them several objectives and a deadline of March 1, 2019.

The committee was charged with reviewing the status and projections of revenues and expenditures for the county, not only for fiscal 2020, but also for fiscal years 2021-25. They also considered the impact of economic indicators and evaluated the best way to pay for the long-term obligations facing the county. The full report can be found at www.howardcountymd.gov/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=BE0JFBVqnOY%3d&portalid=0.

The committee pointed out a significant and growing gap between revenues, which continue to experience moderate growth that could be further stressed by a recession and expenditure requests, which escalated to a new high. In fiscal 2020, the gap in the General Fund operating budget is projected to reach -$108 million before corrective action, partly due to a record-breaking Howard County Public School System request to increase funding by $89.3 million.

The committee also found requests for $232 million in fiscal 2020 capital needs, which is 2.5 times annual approved General Obligation bonds. They determined that without any significant changes, Howard County will struggle to meet many of the requests.

Despite these challenges, the committee sees an opportunity for the county to develop a comprehensive and sustainable long-term plan with stakeholders. “Without changes to revenues or expenditures, current patterns of spending are unsustainable in the long-term,” said the report. “We believe that a significant challenge for policy makers will be to balance pending fiscal restraints against historical levels of service, so that the needs of the population are met.”

Among the many fiscal challenges facing the county, the report highlighted the following.

  • Support of the public education system
  • Continued capital investments for roads, schools and other infrastructure, such as upgrades to (or replacement of) the county’s correctional facility
  • Funding for safe communities
  • Paying our long-term obligations (pension, retiree health benefits and debt service payments)

The committee recommends development of the fiscal 2020 budget, based on projected revenue of $1.15 billion, an increase of 2.7% ($30 million) from the fiscal 2019 budget. They also recommend limiting authorized new General Obligation bonds in fiscal 2020 to $70 million.

The report notes that “although Howard County should average 2% to 3% revenue growth over the next few years, the current expenditure requests are considerably outpacing that growth … Our elected officials have had to make, and must continue to, make tough decisions as it relates to the priorities for funding in our county.”

 

Cat Rescue Seeks Shelter Space

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Hoping To Write More Cat Tales With Happy Endings, Rescue Seeks Shelter Space

Over the years, the Howard County Cat Club has written hundreds of cat tales with happy endings.

There was Mr. Jeff, who was abandoned in a carrier beside an apartment complex dumpster on a blazing hot summer day. Bootsy, an elderly pure-bred Maine Coon, was left in the overnight “drop box” at Carroll County Animal Control in mid-February. And then there was Harvey, who got lost in a state park and was sick and starving when his rescuer found him.

“In the 20 years we’ve been in existence, there have been so many cats,” says HCCC founder and president Missy Zane. “With a lot of hard work and determination, we’ve been able to create hundreds of ‘cat tales’ with happy endings.”

But now, the Howard County Cat Club is looking for that special person or business owner who will create a story with a happy ending for them. The registered 501 (c)(3) no-kill rescue lost its shelter two years ago and has been desperately searching for a new home ever since.

The rescue currently has 10 cats in foster homes. “But finding fosters is extremely difficult,” Zane says. “And since we rescue mainly older cats, our cats tend to stay in their foster homes for a very long time.

“If we had a shelter again, we could save so many more lives.”

What HCCC Needs In A Shelter

        A vacant retail or office space. The walkout basement of a private home would work, too, as long as it has a separate entrance. Other possibilities include a garage with windows or an outbuilding. Or, the rescue would love to have a tiny piece of land where it could turn a 16×24 shed into the most fabulous cat shelter ever. The group is able to pay a small amount of rent.

        A location within a 15-minute drive of Columbia.

        The space needs heating and air conditioning, working electricity and running water. “It has to be a welcoming, comfortable space, not just for the cats, but for our volunteers and potential adopters who come to visit,” Zane says

        Parking for no more than three cars.

        Space for an outdoor enclosure or “catio.”

About The Howard County Cat Club

Zane started the Howard County Cat Club nearly 20 years ago in celebration of her cat sitting service’s 20th anniversary. Since then, the organization has saved the lives of hundreds of cats.

All of the cats are neutered/spayed, have current vaccinations and are microchipped. HCCC is a rescue for adult cats and rarely has kittens. They never have very young kittens or expectant moms. Most of the cats come from the Baltimore/Washington area’s kill shelters, although some are “owner give-ups.”

A dedicated team of volunteers cares for the cats 365 days a year, including holidays.

In addition to fostering cats, HCCC provides free cat behavior consultations by email, advises feral cat caretakers and assists people who want to rehome their cats. Baltimore’s Virtual Cat Adoption Center is HCCC’s Facebook page for owner give-ups. 

“To see the hundreds of cats who need a safe place to go and know there’s very little we can do to help is heartbreaking,” Zane says. “We’re hoping against hope that someone will save us so we can save more cats.”

For more information, write to Howardcountycats@comcast.net or visit the Howard County Cat Club on Facebook, https://www.facebook.com/howardcountycatclub/.

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