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Maryland Chamber responds to Hogan 

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Gov. Larry Hogan recently addressed Marylanders to express concerns about public health trends, including spikes in COVID-19 cases in neighboring states and an increase in the positivity rate for individuals under the age of 35. Hogan urged Marylanders to remain vigilant in complying with public health requirements so that Maryland remains open for business.

Christine Ross, president and CEO of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, issued the following statement in response:

“We remain grateful for Governor Hogan’s quick, decisive and steadfast leadership throughout the COVID-19 crisis. Our members and Maryland’s business community continue to commit themselves to doing what is required to mitigate the impact of the virus and to protect public health and safety. We encourage everyone to do their part to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

 “Following guidance and taking preventative measures are fundamental to safeguarding jobs, reopening businesses and ensuring the continuation of our state’s economic recovery.

 “In late April, the Chamber released Safe Workplace: Best Practices and Baselines for Reopening Maryland, a product of the hard work and expertise of the Maryland Chamber’s COVID-19 Working Group. The document features a set of guidelines for consideration by employers as they reopen their businesses in a safe and responsible way.

 “To access Safe Workplace: Best Practices and Baselines for Reopening Maryland, please download below or go to https://mdchamber.org/covid-19-resources-2-2.”

 

MBA president heading to Massachusetts 

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The Maryland Bankers Association (MBA) Board of Directors announced that president and CEO Kathleen Murphy will become the next president and CEO of the Massachusetts Bankers Association. Murphy succeeds Daniel Forte, who joined the Association in 1985 and will be retiring in October.

“We celebrate Kathleen Murphy’s contributions to the state of Maryland and the Maryland banking industry during her 20-year tenure as the association’s president and CEO,” said B.J. Goetz, MBA chairman and president and CEO of Middletown Valley Bank.

“Since joining the MBA in 1999, she has elevated the voice of the Maryland banking industry through exceptional advocacy, media relations and member communications and strengthened member banks through development of innovative professional development programs and member services.”

Murphy will be departing the MBA at the end of August. Its Succession Committee is starting the search for her replacement.

 

Housing market rebounds but inventory is low

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Maryland’s housing market in June rebounded significantly from  the drop in sales seen in April and May. June witnessed 8,259 total units sold. While this represents a drop of 6.8 percent from June 2019, it marks a 36.4 percent increase from the total units sold in May.

Inventory, however, remains a challenge. “While inventory continues to tighten, June’s housing statistics demonstrate that the housing market is truly contributing to this economy,” said Maryland REALTORS President John Harrison. “From May to June, average sales prices rose from $365,945 to 377,395. Median sales prices rose as well from $320,000 in May to $330,000 in June.”

According to Harrison, available inventory remains the biggest struggle. Active Inventory dropped in June to 12,153 from May’s total of 13,838, a decrease of 12.2 percent. “On a year-over-year basis, months of inventory dropped from 3.6 in 2019 to 1.7 in 2020. We are seeing multiple offers, sometimes as many as 15 to 20 on available properties.”

In the 2020 Market Recovery Survey from the National Association of REALTORS, 11 percent of respondents reported that no sellers have returned to the market; 20 percent reported that less than 25 percent of sellers have returned to the market; and 17 percent reported that 25 to 50 percent of sellers have returned.

Horses will run Lasix free

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The Maryland Jockey Club (MJC), The Stronach Group and the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association (MTHA) have reached an agreement for a Lasix-free pilot program through 2023.

Photo by Emily Calkins

The deal will facilitate Lasix-free races for 2-year-old horses, Lasix-free graded stakes, a minimum number of racing days per week during any MJC meet and a substantial increase in committed funding for the Beyond The Wire aftercare program.

The program, which was the result of weeks of good-faith discussions among all parties, was reviewed and approved subject to the adoption of emergency regulations, which it is hoped will be advanced in short order, by the Maryland Racing Commission (MRC) at its July 16 meeting.

Under the agreement, in 2020 Lasix will not be administered to 2-year-olds within 48 hours of a race. From 2021 through 2023, 2-year-old races and graded stakes will be carded Lasix-free. As a result of COVID-19, live racing has been held only twice a week since Laurel Park reopened at the end of May. This agreement provides for a minimum of three live racing days per week during all Maryland Jockey Club meets at current purse levels beginning July 23.

The agreement also calls for a study with respect to Lasix-free racing. The agreement also paves the way for an enhanced commitment to racehorse aftercare in Maryland through the Beyond The Wire program, which relies heavily on an $11 per-start contribution from owners. That revenue wasn’t generated when Laurel was shut down for two-and-a-half months because of COVID-19 restrictions.

 

APL enlists states for cyber defense

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The Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) and the Department of Homeland Security’s Cybersecurity and Infrastructure Security Agency (CISA) are teaming up to help state and local governments enhance their online defenses.

Under a pilot program, Arizona, Louisiana, Massachusetts and Texas, as well as the Multi-State Information Sharing and Analysis Center (MS-ISAC), are applying Security Orchestration, Automation and Response (SOAR) to this effort. SOAR tools enable organizations to collect security-threat data through multiple sources and perform triage response actions significantly faster than with manual processes.

This initiative will enable state, local, tribal and territorial (SLTT) governments to share information quickly and broadly – in near real time – and leverage automation to prevent or respond to cyberattacks.

Specifically, the SLTT Indicators of Compromise (IOC) automation pilot will focus on the curation of the feed and the processes used by the participants to triage, prioritize and act upon the resultant IOCs. Automation and orchestration will be used to gain efficiencies in tasks, processes and resultant actions for the producer and consumers of the IOCs. In particular, the program will:

  • Identify key areas for potential reduction of manual tasks
  • Promote actionable information sharing across government levels and agencies
  • Identify orchestration services needed to integrate responses – such as sensing, understanding, decision-making and acting – to cyber threats

The effort stems from recent APL research and pilot programs with critical infrastructure industries that showed how automated information sharing can shore up cyber defenses by reducing response time.

Using the Integrated Adaptive Cyber Defense (IACD) framework, developed by APL under an effort sponsored by DHS and the National Security Agency for cybersecurity automation, orchestration and information sharing, response time dropped from 11 hours to 10 minutes. In some instances, preapproved responses were implemented in one second.

The results of the pilot, anticipated this fall, will be technology agnostic and could serve as a model for other states and local governments to augment their cyber defense capabilities quickly and easily.

 

 

Smith to chair of Airport Minority Advisory Council

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Ricky Smith, executive director of BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, has been elected to a two-year term as chairman of the Airport Minority Advisory Council (AMAC). Smith served as an at-large member of the AMAC Board of Directors during the past year and has been an active member of the national organization for many years.

“During this period of unprecedented public health challenges and heightened awareness around social injustices, I could not be prouder and more humbled by the AMAC community’s confidence in my leadership,” Smith said. “I am joined by a board of directors that is committed to addressing the myriad challenges affecting women and minorities in the aviation industry.

 

VAACC reopens visitors center

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Area residents and visitors in search of information about Annapolis and Anne Arundel County can count on personalized service from trained volunteers at Visit Annapolis & Anne Arundel County (VAAAC) Visitors Center once again.

The security and sanitation measures and equipment outlined below were made possible through a $10,000 Customer and Employee Protection (CEP) grant that the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp. awarded to VAAAC last month.

A maximum of 11 visitors will be allowed in the center at one time. While waiting for assistance, six-foot floor markers will make it easy for guests to maintain social distancing. Posters encouraging cough/sneeze etiquette and hand hygiene, automatic hand-sanitizer stations, and plexiglass partitions at information stations will help ensure additional protection for all.

VAAAC is following CDC-recommended guidelines for cleaning and disinfecting high-touch points. EPA-approved sanitizing products will be used every half-hour ― or more often as necessary. Entry and exit doors will remain open as often as possible to provide extra ventilation.

To provide an extra layer of protection for VAAAC employees, volunteers, and visitors, VAAAC has had the 26 West Street Visitors Center professionally cleaned via a vaporization technology that disinfects, sanitizes and decontaminates with a Department of Defense-approved electrostatic disinfection system designed the kill 99.9 percent of surface viruses and bacteria for up to 28 days.

Ruppersberger gets $230M for defense projects

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The House Appropriations Committee has passed a defense funding bill that includes a 3 percent pay raise for troops, as well as more than $230 million for projects supporting Maryland’s military-minded economy. The Defense Appropriations bill for fiscal year 2021 now heads to the full U.S. House of Representatives for consideration.

The $695 billion bill supports force readiness and improves quality-of-life programs for military families. A Defense Appropriator, Ruppersberger leveraged his role to secure funding that will benefit Maryland’s 15 military installations ― which support more than 150,000 jobs ― as well as the research and development conducted by Maryland-based contractors to make American troops safer on the battlefield. Together, they compromise 15 percent of the state’s economy.

Much of the federal government’s medical research funds are funneled through the Defense spending bill, because of their impact on wounded warriors and veterans. Congressman Ruppersberger helped secure funding for military projects and medical research underway in Maryland. Highlights include:

  • $5 million for a pilot program to expand telehealth services to children in military families with severe behavioral challenges that currently includes the Kennedy Krieger Institute;
  • $20 million for the Army Artificial Intelligence Innovation Institute (A2I2) at the Army Research Lab, headquartered in Adelphi;
  • $10 million for the Materials in Extreme Dynamic Environments Program, which supports better armor for troops using research at Maryland institutions including The Johns Hopkins University;
  • $40 million for the Spinal Cord Injury Research Program, which includes the University of Maryland School of Medicine and The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine;
  • $30 million for the Peer-Reviewed Orthopedic Research Program, which includes the University of Maryland School of Medicine and The Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine;
  • $105 million for the Readiness and Environmental Protection Integration Program, to improve water quality, fight sea level rise and reduce land-use conflicts on and near military installations like Aberdeen Proving Ground.

Additionally, the bill included several critical provisions supported by Congressman Ruppersberger that:

  • Prevent President Trump from using defense funds to build his border wall and require any unused funds that were taken for the border wall for the current fiscal year to be returned;
  • Prohibit unnecessary nuclear weapons testing;
  • Confirm the language in the Justice in Policing Act to de-militarize police;
  • Provide $1 million to the Army for renaming installations, facilities and roads that bear the name of Confederates;
  • Repeal both the 2001 and 2002 Authorizations for the Use of Military Force and make clear that Congress has not authorized war against Iran. None of these amendments prevent the President from protecting U.S. citizens or U.S. service members by using his Article II authorities.

UMBC to expand cybersecurity courses for manufacturing workers

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UMBC

UMBC researchers will collaborate with the Chicago-based MxD to develop a curriculum and online platform for manufacturing professionals to increase their cybersecurity skills and to protect manufacturing plants from cyber breaches. The work is funded by a $650,000 grant from the Office of Economic Adjustment, under the U.S. Department of Defense.

MxD is one of 14 federally-supported institutes known collectively as Manufacturing USA. It has awarded millions of dollars to research and development projects across 35 states to advance U.S. manufacturing practices and increase global competitiveness. This UMBC collaboration will be the first initiative focused on increasing manufacturing workers’ knowledge of cybersecurity.

The content of this program is completely new, as there are no existing platforms that focus on the intersection of cybersecurity and manufacturing, said Nilanjan Banerjee, professor of computer science and electrical engineering at UMBC and principal investigator on the grant.

Howard Council gambles on cultural center funds

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Photo credit Design Collective/Orchard Development

Even though financing has been secured for construction of a signature home for the arts in Columbia, a cautious Howard County Council has moved the funding out of the budget to give itself more time to understand the project.

Costing approximately $137 million, the New Cultural Center’s financing relies on $63 million in general obligation bonds, $10 million in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) bonds from a proposed public parking garage, and $64 million in secured tax credits for an affordable housing component that will be owned by the Howard County Housing Corp. (HCHC).

According to Peter Engel, HCHC’s executive director, delay could prevent the county from meeting federal Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) deadlines for the tax credits.

“We do not know how DHCD would view an extension request and we do not think it is wise to ask them unless we absolutely must,” he said.

Carl DeLorenzo, director of policy and programs for Howard County, said the project needs to be completed by the end of 2024 to avoid the possibility of forfeiting the tax credits, meaning the county must break ground by spring 2021.

Comfort Level

Deb Jung, the council’s chair, said she would like to see the project pushed back a year and reexamined because of the county’s shrinking revenue stream and the negative economic impact of the COVID-19.

“That’s a lot of debt to take on in a year when there’s so much financial uncertainty,” she said, adding that the design has also changed.

The Department of Recreation and Parks (DRP) and the Department of Public Works would also share an annual cost of about $3.3 million for facility management.

“I don’t think most people realize the full financial picture of what it will take to ultimately get this center built and managed,” she said. “Maybe it will be a more affordable project if it does get pushed back. I still don’t see the uptick in the economy that makes me comfortable moving forward.”

What’s also missing, in Jung’s view, is a business and governance plan for the facility, a private fundraising plan, refinement of the revenue, construction, operating and financing cost estimates and an analysis of how the project impacts the entire operating budget including overall bonding capacity.

Jung also questioned the propriety and legality of advancing a project that was not competitively bid.

DeLorenzo acknowledged that the project began as a private endeavor undertaken by Toby and Hal Orenstein, owners of Toby’s Dinner Theater, in partnership with Orchard Development of Ellicott City.

When they failed to raise the required capital, the county took over and hired Arcadis Design & Consultancy to perform an independent analysis of construction costs.

“That’s how we determined the fairness of the construction costs,” DeLorenzo said. “Our consultants came in with a higher estimate than the development team’s estimate. We’re going to use that information to move forward with a sole-source request [for proposal].”

Understudy Tenant

Scott Armiger, president of Orchard Development, characterized design changes as tweaks to the performing arts space and changes to make the center user-friendlier for tenants.

“The housing has fewer units, 174, but we added more three-bedroom units for the Housing Commission to qualify for the tax credits,” he said.

Armiger said he understands the council’s concern about funding during the pandemic but noted that bond servicing won’t start for another three years.

“We’ll be past all of this when the building is finally constructed,” he said.

Original plans for the Howard County Arts Council (HCAC) to relocate to the center proved financially unfeasible.

“Our income projections could not cover both the programming and staffing costs as well as the debt service,” said Colleen West, HCAC’s executive director.

Instead, county administration arranged to have the Department of Recreation and Parks consolidate its arts programming in the cultural center.

“[T]hey have the infrastructure in place to generate the type of revenue we need to make the project financially feasible,” DeLorenzo said.

Tight Schedule

Among the offerings DRP could provide at the center are music lessons and classes in culinary arts, introductory theater, sewing and costume making.

DRP would share the second floor with the Columbia Center for Theatrical Arts run by Toby Orenstein, whose Helen Hayes Award-winning dinner theater would occupy the first floor.

“Year-round programming space doesn’t exist in the county [for either tenant] right now,” DeLorenzo said.

The administration’s goal is to work with the council to address its concerns with the hope of breaking ground by next spring to maintain the timeline, he added.

Understandably, the delay is taking a toll on Orenstein, who originally suggested the idea of incorporating a housing component to make the cultural center a truly public amenity and address the county’s lack of affordable housing.

“I promised Jim Rouse I would always follow the ideals of bringing people together, and that’s what this cultural center will do,” she said. “We are very lucky in the funding we got, and if we lose it, it’s going to be a horrible loss for Columbia.”

By George Berkheimer | Senior Writer | The Business Monthly | July Issue

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