If you’ve heard me talk about Howard County during the three years I’ve been county executive, you know that getting the chance to have this job has been the one of the greatest experiences of my life. Like you, I’m extremely proud of our community.
We know Howard County is a desirable place to live, and we know that businesses want to locate here. We have great schools, wonderful parks and recreational facilities, and quality job opportunities. No wonder Howard County is considered one of the greatest places in America. We’re proud that we are a welcoming community, a place where all people are treated equally. Howard County is a place where people can thrive. The goals of my administration are simple: We strive to be efficient, transparent and supporters of both the needs of people and the business community. It’s a balance that helps keep Howard County that great place to live, work and play.
During 2017, my administration joined with the state to begin the Route 32 widening project, secured the Harriet Tubman School as a future home of an African-American cultural center, expanded our senior and aging-in-place tax credits, launched Achieve 24/7 (a program aimed at increasing opportunities for children and youth) and found a developer to revitalize the Long Reach Village Center.
We’ve invested in our communities. In Elkridge, we’re building a new fire station and a new library/50-Plus Center. In the Savage, North Laurel and Jessup areas, we have made progress on a community pool, completed aesthetic improvements to the Bollman Bridge and continued to provide better transportation options.
And let’s not forget Ellicott City, the success story of the year, if not the decade. Ellicott City is redefining the meaning of resilience since the Main Street area was hit by the July 2016 flood. As of last month, 96% of businesses have returned and 18 new ones have moved to Main Street. I hope everyone visits Historic Ellicott City to see how far it has come.
Now, as we move into 2018, my administration has established several priority projects focused on continuing to improve the quality of life in Howard County.
We continue to attract businesses to the Columbia Gateway Innovation District. During the next decade, we will transform the 920-acre site near routes 175 and 95 with leading-edge companies working alongside educational institutions and startups on new technologies and services. We plan to relocate the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship there, as well.
Our emphasis is to help businesses create jobs in the county. Since I took office, the county has added nearly 4,000 new jobs, driving the unemployment rate down to 2.8%. Along with Montgomery County, the county’s unemployment rate is the lowest in the state and well below national averages.
We will increase our economic development efforts along the Route 1 Corridor this year with a holistic approach that takes into account prior county studies for revitalization, infill development, design and transportation. We will begin to implement short-term projects while creating long-term strategies with the help of many stakeholders who live, work and own businesses along Route 1.
Since I took office, I have heard from many of you that our zoning and land development regulations are too complicated and difficult to understand, so I have directed our Department of Planning and Zoning to have an independent review of the county’s zoning and land development regulations completed. I expect to see a draft of the assessment this month. We will hold two days of public meetings to hear feedback before a final assessment is released this spring.
In early 2018, the second phase of the Community Resources Campus will become a reality. Last year, we took the first step by helping several critical nonprofits relocate to the Columbia site. In the next phase, several county and state agencies will relocate to this campus, making it easier for those in search of human services.
Opioid addiction continues to have a horrific impact on Howard County, as it does the rest of the country. Last year, we partnered with the county health department to raise awareness and train county employees and members of the community in the use of the life-saving drug naloxone. During 2018, we expect to develop a plan to build a detox and treatment facility to help those addicted get the help they need.
We will receive bids this spring to build a much-needed Circuit Courthouse, on Bendix Road. From there, we will select a contractor and submit legislation to the County Council by fall to finalize the scope of work.
I’ve lived in Howard County my entire life: I’ve worked for this community for nearly that long, and I can’t think of a better place to live. We have great schools, a thriving economy that’s friendly to businesses and consumers, and Columbia, a community that Money Magazine calls the Best Place to Live in America.
I look forward to another year of serving the residents of Howard County.