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Howard County Public School System to strengthen infrastructure for hybrid learning model 

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The Howard County Government and the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) have collaborated to make a series of infrastructure enhancements needed to sustain the hybrid learning model.  

These enhancements significantly increase the bandwidth available in schools, allowing for the continued use of Google Meet video tools to provide instruction to students who participate virtually in instruction simultaneously with students in the classroom. The county and the HCPSS implemented several strategies to increase internet bandwidth and mitigate potential problems. The measures taken include: 

  • Doubling the bandwidth available to HCPSS by splitting network traffic into two additional internet pipelines
  • Partnering with Network Maryland to increase the amount of internet access available to HCPSS
  • Transitioning most elementary schools to Howard County Government’s network for Google Meet sessions, reducing the impact on the HCPSS network
  • Establishing a new fiber internet connection prior to the return of the final cohort to in-person instruction
  • Adjusting Howard County Government processes to make additional bandwidth available for HCPSS 

Additionally, HCPSS has blocked access to non-instructional video streaming sites, reduced Google Meet video quality while still meeting acceptable standards and collaborated with the County to optimize the Google Meet video configuration.  

HCPSS has not experienced problems related to inadequate bandwidth availability since the return of students to in-person hybrid instruction. 

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Dive Bar & Grill to open at Savage Mill

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Dive Bar & Grille, a family-owned business out of Pennsylvania, will open its sixth location and its first in Maryland at Historic Savage Mill.

The new restaurant will lease the 9,000-square-foot space in the Carding Building formerly occupied by the Rams Head Tavern; Owner Clint Kuskie said he is investing $450,000 in a refresh of the building, including new furniture, floors, etc. It will span all three levels of the interior, as well as the courtyard terrace and the riverside deck.

Opening is planned for June 2021. Watch the April 9th announcement HERE.

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Howard County Executive Calvin Ball presents capital budget for Fiscal 2022

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Howard County Executive Calvin Ball presented to the County Council a $304.6 million Capital Improvement Program (CIP) for fiscal 2022, including $72.5 million from General Obligation (GO) bonds. The CIP budget book can be viewed at www.howardcountymd.gov/LinkClick.aspx?fileticket=fi6iUBrxq_A%3d&portalid=0&timestamp=1617303328218.

The county has experienced a slowdown in the rate of revenue growth and a steady increase in its debt burden in recent years. It also faces ongoing uncertainty from the economic impact of the pandemic in the foreseeable future. The proposed authorization of $72.5 million in GO bonds is the lowest amount in the last 19 years, $25 million below the average of the past decade. Of this total, $52.3 million or 72 percent is going to support educational institutions. The Spending Affordability Advisory Committee (SAAC) recommended reducing newly authorized GO Bonds to a maximum of $50 million. The proposed CIP budget reflects a historically low level of GO bonds in FY 2022, reducing the average projected GO in the next six years to around $70 million to align more closely with affordability.

Education remains the top budget priority. The fiscal 2022 proposed capital budget for the Howard County Public School System totals $79.7 million including county funding of $52 million and verified State aid of $27.7 million to date. While advocacy efforts to secure additional State aid are ongoing, the proposed budget fully funds the requested County share for the three top priorities of the Board of Education (new High School #13, Talbott Springs Elementary replacement, and Hammond High School renovation/addition).

The proposed budget also includes funding for the expanded East Columbia 50+ Center, a long-awaited project that can now be completed by fiscal 2023. Additionally, the capital budget advances the Harriet Tubman Remediation and Restoration project, including construction of the new Harriet Tubman Cultural Center.

Other critical initiatives supported include the Ellicott City Safe and Sound plan, with significant flood mitigation efforts in Ellicott City and Valley Mede, including construction of the Maryland Avenue Culvert Expansion, and final design and construction of the Extended North Tunnel in FY 2022. This year’s proposed budget of $89.8 million includes a significant federal loan in addition to funding from State and local sources. The $75 million Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act (WIFIA) federal loan will allow the County to move expeditiously on construction of the Maryland Avenue Culvert Expansion, and the final design and construction of the Extended North Tunnel in fiscal 2022 at a lower annual interest payment than traditional GO financing.

Additionally, flood mitigation facilities on the New Cut Branch (NC-3) and Hudson Branch (H-4) will advance into the design phase, with the H-4 project taking 34 units out of the development pipeline while providing 11 acres for upstream flood mitigation. The proposed budget includes funds for sidewalk and streetscape improvements and building renovations on Lower Main Street.

The capital budget also invests in existing infrastructure, increasing road resurfacing spending to address a growing backlog of aging infrastructure across the County and avoid more costly repairs/reconstruction in the future. The proposed budget includes $10 million PAYGO funding for road resurfacing needs, the highest investment since FY 2015 in response to an increasing backlog that reached $61.4 million in 2020 due to an aging infrastructure across the County. Ball’s proposed budget also addresses various other needs in transportation, infrastructure, watershed, recreation and parks, and public safety projects.

Highlights of the fiscal 2022 CIP budget include

Education

  • $27.7 million in county funding for High School #13.
  • $15.1 million in county funding toward the Hammond High School renovation and addition to increase capacity.
  • $9.1 million in county funding for systemic renovations and roofing projects.
  • $3.2 million for other school capital needs, such as technology and relocatable classrooms.
  • $15.8 million, in local match, for Howard Community College new mathematics and athletics complex.
  • $500,000 for the planning of the new library branch in Downtown Columbia.
  • The prior appropriation for Talbott Springs Elementary replacement satisfied all local funding needs for this project.

Community Services

  • $5.5 million in county funding and $1 million in State funding for design and construction of East Columbia 50+ Center.
  • $1.3 million in county funding and $750,000 in State aid for construction of the Harriet Tubman Cultural Center.

Ellicott City Safe and Sound

  • $6 million in county funding, combined with $8.9 million State grants and $75 million WIFIA loan to support the Maryland Avenue Culvert Expansion, the extended North Tunnel, and flood mitigation facilities on the New Cut Branch and Hudson Branch.

Transportation and Infrastructure 

  • $10 million in PAYGO funds for road resurfacing
  • $3.8 million in county systemic facilities improvements
  • $5 million in county and grant funding for pedestrian and bicycle improvements

Public Safety

  • $1.7 million towards the construction of a new North Columbia Fire Station.
  • $1.1 million for public safety enhancements, including new Computer-Aided Dispatch System.
  • $1.6 million to facilitate safety improvements to the existing firing range.
  • $2 million to renovate the Detention Center, including upgrades to both the sprinkler and fire alarm systems.
  • Business and Economic Development
  • Prior County appropriation, leveraged with State funding and private investment, will allow for the final phase of renovation and equipment for the Maryland Innovation Center.
  • Recreation and Parks 
  • $8.3 million, primarily in designated resources, for renovations to existing facility infrastructure and park improvement projects.
  • $1.3 million in State Program Open Space funding to support the completion of Field #1 improvements at Troy Park and the replacement of aged park infrastructure at multiple sites.

The Howard County Council will hold a virtual public hearing on the CIP budget Tuesday, April 20 at 4 p.m.

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Johns Hopkins University advances safety of AI, autonomous machines

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To advance the benefits and safety of the technology behind unmanned vehicles and the array of artificial intelligence (AI) programs automating our devices, offices, homes and community grids, the Johns Hopkins Institute for Assured Autonomy (IAA) has invested in a portfolio of 10 state-of-the-art research projects. These two-year projects – uniting researchers across Johns Hopkins University (JHU) – have been underway since early 2020 and promise to transform the technology sector and society.

Supported by $6.5 million in funding over two years, the research spans a range of practical applications, such as:

  • Developing a policy framework for autonomous vehicles
  • Developing software for safe traffic management in national airspace
  • Assuring safe operations of AI-enabled systems in offices, hospitals and other social spaces
  • Assuring privacy and fairness in AI technologies
  • Strengthening AI systems against adversarial attacks

Last year, JHU committed $30 million to establish the IAA as a national center of excellence for assured AI and smart autonomous systems, run jointly by the Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) and the JHU Whiting School of Engineering (WSE). In addition to propelling advanced research in the sector, IAA is forming partnerships with stakeholders across sectors and convening top experts for assuring the autonomous world.

A year ago, IAA selected its first research projects after issuing a call for proposals from across Johns Hopkins. The effort is led by the institute’s research director, David Silberberg, an assistant program manager at APL, working closely with IAA Co-Directors Tony Dahbura (WSE) and Cara LaPointe (APL) and the Institute’s extended research team.

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 Howard County Executive Calvin Ball adds 50+ Senior Center to capital budget 

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Howard County Executive Calvin Ball advanced the East Columbia 50+ Center expansion with $1 million in State funding and $5.5 million in County funding. The funding is included in Ball’s capital budget for fiscal 2022, which was sent to the Howard County Council on April 1.

The project design for the expansion began in 2018 and the architectural design work was completed in 2020. Ball included the East Columbia 50+ Center in his fiscal 2021 capital budget to advance construction, but it was removed by a majority in the Howard County Council.

The East Columbia 50+ Center was identified as one of the top priority projects in a Master Plan for the Office on Aging and Independence. The plan noted that 40 percent of Howard County’s older adult population resides in East Columbia. The neighborhood also is made up of a diverse and vulnerable community that includes 86 percent that are 60 years or older, 7 percent below the poverty level and 35 percent that live alone.

The existing East Columbia 50+ Center is 3800 square feet (sf) with a capacity of 60 and is the only center without access to a dedicated fitness center. Its total attendance pre-pandemic was nearly 17,000 annual visits and more than 32,000 visits to use fitness equipment. The current 50+ space is insufficient to offer desired programming to meet the needs of the community.

The expanded 50+ Center (29,600 sf) will include:

  • Commercial kitchen to support a congregate lunch program and provide capacity for addressing food insecurity issues for all populations.
  • Large community meeting space to support meal programs, events, and community meetings.
  • Technology hub for virtual program offerings and connectivity across sites.
  • A social day program for at risk adults in the central and most densely populated part of the county.
  • Expanded programs in art, lifelong learning, languages, physical fitness, evidence-based health promotion, intergenerational, consumer protection, civic engagement, advocacy, employment and volunteerism.
  • Fitness equipment room and exercise studio to support healthy aging to maintain the optimal health and independent living of older adults.
  • The building will be equipped with a generator and can help serve the community during emergencies.

If the proposed county funding is approved by the County Council, construction of the 50+ Center could begin as early as August, with a projected opening date in the spring of 2023.

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Consumer trends for home improvement

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Angie Barnett

From 2019 to 2020, consumer interest in businesses related to the home improvement industry showed strong growth in the Better Business Bureau® directory.

After spending much of the past 12 months at home, consumers are beginning to notice all the ways their houses aren’t fulfilling their current needs.

Now, they’re in the market for professionals who can help them get closer to their dream home.

Here are 3 consumer trends that will be important to businesses in the home improvement industry.

Despite economic uncertainty, home sales actually increased in 2020, and experts predict 2021 will be another strong year. According to the National Association of Realtors, millennials accounted for the largest share of home buyers last year, making up 38 percent of purchases. An analysis of the real estate market cited by Qualified Remodeler asserts that young adults take on about 35 percent more remodeling projects than other homeowners.

With young adults driving much of the growth in the real estate market, demand for home improvement industry professionals is likely to remain high throughout 2021.

Plus, as more buyers compete for a limited supply of homes, they’re likely to show greater interest in homes requiring renovation – another potential benefit to the home improvement industry.

In addition to using online search engines to discover home improvement professionals, consumers are taking greater care to scrutinize businesses using their various online profiles. According to a consumer survey by BrightLocal, “87 percent of consumers read online reviews for local businesses in 2020 – up from 81 percent in 2019.”

BrightLocal also found that people who read customer reviews consider a business’s overall rating to be the most important takeaway.

This bolsters findings of a 2021 International Association of Better Business Bureaus Consumer Survey in which 88 percent of consumers familiar with BBB ratings reported they are more likely to do business with a company displaying an A or A+ rating.

High ratings are therefore one of the strongest factors influencing consumer buying decisions.

Searches for home improvement professionals are up across BBB.org. Compared with 2019, consumer searches for roofing, home improvement, general contractor and remodeling professionals each increased in 2020. Of those four industries, three saw double-digit growth in traffic on BBB.org. Roofing came out on top with a 26 percent growth in traffic and 2.2 million total searches.

Strong growth on BBB.org reveals multiple trends. First, consumers are simply interested in completing more home improvements to improve their home office setups, outdoor spaces and check off projects they’d been putting off prior to the pandemic.

More importantly, they’re placing greater value on connecting with businesses who have been evaluated by BBB.

Angie Barnett is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland.

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Biden says, ‘buy American or else’

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Gloria Larkin

Among the numerous Executive Orders (EOs) President Joe Biden has signed since his inauguration is the directive entitled, “Ensuring the Future Is Made in All of America by All of America’s Workers.”

Dated Jan. 25, this action is aimed at fulfilling his campaign pledge to strengthen Buy American rules on the strength of the federal government’s $600 billion procurement budget.

The EO dictates the Biden Administration’s policy that the U.S. government “should, whenever possible, procure goods, products, materials and services from sources that will help American businesses compete in strategic industries and help America’s workers thrive.”

It is also the administration’s hope that the EO will help boost the U.S economy out of the recession while making a significant investment in the long-term rebuild of the manufacturing sector.

Similar EOs signed by former President Donald Trump didn’t make a great impact because his administration waited to formalize changes until his second-to-last day in office; by contrast, Biden set a 180-day deadline, which was issued shortly after the Federal Acquisition Regulatory Council (FARC) finalized a rule to increase Buy American Act (BAA) domestic content requirements.

What are key implications for government contractors?

The EO promotes enforcement of the BAA’s objective and directs the FARC to propose notice and public comment amendments to the Federal Acquisition Regulation (FAR) provisions. That allows the BAA to replace the component test that had been used to identify domestically-produced end products and construction materials, and activities, with a value-added test – though the EO does not explain how such value would be calculated.

Additionally, the EO calls for the FARC to consider FAR amendments to increase the amount for domestic content requirements for end products and construction materials, as well as increase price preferences for domestic end products and domestic construction materials; and to review existing constraints on the extension of the Made in America Laws to information technology.

For more information, refer to the FARC’s recently published final rule, which heightens the BAA domestic content requirements and pricing preferences to implement Trump’s EO 13881, “Maximizing Use of American-Made Goods, Products, and Materials.”

It makes three critical changes: increasing the domestic content requirement to 55 percent for most products and to 95 percent for products consisting wholly or predominantly of iron or steel; removing the commercially available-off-the-shelf exception for products consisting wholly or predominantly of iron or steel; and increases price preferences for domestic products to 20 percent for large businesses and 30 percent for small businesses.

Biden’s EO does not invalidate this final rule, so it is not known whether these changes will be modified.

The Biden EO is written to make it harder to obtain a waiver of Made in American Laws. The EO calls for the head of the Office of Management and Budget (OMB) to establish a Made in America Office, run by a director. Before an agency grants a waiver, and unless the OMB director provides otherwise, the agency must provide the director with a description of its proposed waiver and detailed justification for the use of goods, products or materials that have not been domestically mined, produced or manufactured.

Additionally, the EO calls for the General Services Administration to develop a public website with information on proposed waivers and if they were granted.

The EO also directs agencies to identify suppliers of American-made products for the benefit of prime contractors, and for agencies to partner with the Hollings Manufacturing Extension Partnership to conduct scouting efforts.

Lastly, the EO imposes new reporting requirements on federal agencies that now must consider suspending, revising or rescinding any actions that are inconsistent with the aforementioned policy, then to consider additional action to enforce it, as well as submit biannual reports.

These new dictums could cause issues domestically and abroad. American companies feel that disruptions to their overseas supply chains might ensue and cautioned that shifting manufacturing facilities may not be possible; foreign countries like China and the European Union members (which were tagged with tariffs by Trump) may see the EO as a threat to trade opportunities.

Gloria Larkin is president and CEO of TargetGov and a national expert in business development in the government markets. Email glorialarkinTG@targetgov.com.

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Recently awarded government contracts

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The following information is regarding awarded contracts can be used to develop prime contractor, subcontractor and teaming partner relationships on these and other opportunities. The website for each awardee is also provided. For more information, contact TargetGov: 410-579-1346 x 325.

ASRC Federal Field Services LLC, Beltsville, has been awarded a $21,654,522 contract for Vance Air Force Base, Oklahoma, base operation support for the Air Force in San Antonio-Randolph, Texas. https://www.asrcfederal.com/contact/

Textron Systems, Hunt Valley, has been awarded a $34,381,542 contract for engineering and technical support for the Unmanned Influence Sweep System Unmanned Surface Vehicle program for The Naval Sea Systems Command, Washington, D.C. https://www.textronsystems.com/services-support/suppliers

Blind Industries & Services of Maryland, Baltimore, won a $11,505,000 contract for wind cold weather jackets for the Defense Logistics Agency, Troop Support, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. https://www.bism.org/directory

Melwood Horticultural Training Center, Upper Marlboro, is awarded a $19,007,322 contract under the Ability One program for custodial, recycling and grounds maintenance support at federal installations within a 100-mile radius of the National Capitol Region for The Naval Facilities Engineering Systems Command in Washington, Washington, D.C. https://melwood.org/business-services/sub-contracting/

J.F. Taylor Inc., Lexington Park, is awarded a $28,164,077 contract to provide ship, air and combat integration and identification engineering services in support of the Combat Integration and Identification Systems Division of the Naval Air Warfare Center, Aircraft Division, Webster Outlying Field, MD for The Naval Air Warfare Center, Aircraft Division, Patuxent River, MD. https://www.jfti.com/CONTACT-US

AXIS GeoSpatial LLC, Easton, won a $16,000,000 contract for photogrammetric and light detection and ranging surveying and mapping for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, St. Louis, Missouri. https://www.axisgeospatial.com/contact-us/

Tribalco LLC, Bethesda, was awarded an $8,863,183 contract for support and services to manage the complete life-cycle of the Army Corps of Engineers radio communications mission for the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, Huntsville, Alabama. http://www.tribalco.com/contact.html

Leidos Inc., Gaithersburg, was awarded $34,115,686 for contractor logistics support services for the Afghan Air Force and the Ministry of the Interior’s Special Mission Wing for the U.S. Army Contracting Command, Redstone Arsenal, Alabama. https://www.leidos.com/company/partners

Smartronix LLC, Hollywood, has been awarded a contract in the amount of $7,822,731 to provide continued Amazon Web Service cloud service support to the U.S. Transportation Command, Directorate of Acquisition, Scott AFB, Illinois. https://www.smartronix.com/about-us/partners/index.html

Walker Engineering Solutions, Annapolis; Phoenix Operations Group LLC, Woodbine; NEANY Inc., Hollywood, and 8 other companies have collectively been awarded a $51,000,000 contract for several technical requirement areas in a research and development environment for the Acquisition Management and Integration Center, Joint Base Langley-Eustis, Virginia. https://www.walkeres.com/contact-us/

Gloria Larkin is president and CEO of TargetGov.

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BWI Marshall reopens Long Term A parking lot

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BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport has reopened its Long Term A Parking lot as of April 1. The Long Term A lot and several other parking operations at the airport were temporarily closed last March as a result of the global pandemic and its impact on air travel.

Passenger traffic has increased steadily at BWI Marshall in recent weeks. Friday, March 26, was the busiest day since the start of Maryland’s COVID-19 State of Emergency, with 22,698 departing passengers; several other days in March were among the busiest in the past year.

BWI Marshall originally planned a gradual reopening of parking facilities starting July 1. Growing passenger traffic in recent weeks has prompted the airport to accelerate the reopening of the Long Term A lot. The airport’s Long Term B lot, Express Parking and valet service will remain temporarily closed at this time.

Upon reopening, the parking rate for the BWI Marshall Long Term A lot will be $8 per day, the regular rate. The Daily Garage and Hourly Garage have operated at reduced daily rates, $8 and $12, respectively, during the pandemic and will begin a phased transition to regular rates. As of April 15, the Daily Garage rate will be $10 per day and the Hourly Garage rate will be $16 per day.

Resumption of the regular rates for the Daily Garage ($12 per day) and the Hourly Garage ($22 per day) is currently scheduled for Oct. 1.

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AAEDC updates RFS grant program

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The Anne Arundel County Economic Development Corp. (AAEDC) has updated its list of businesses eligible to apply for the Restaurant and Food Service (RFS) Grant Program to reflect its aim to assist businesses that were not served in previous application rounds.

The AAEDC is now able to disburse $2.1 million from the state of Maryland to fund additional grant applications for restaurants with dine-in seating and no drive through; caterers; county-based businesses with a liquor service license, but no food license; and locally-owned food service establishments with a walk up window.

The new round opens on Monday, April 19, and closes on Friday, April 30. The grants can be used for working capital and expenses related to implementing pandemic related safety measures. Businesses that received a previous RFS grant should not apply again during this reopened application period. Should additional funds be available after this application period closes, AAEDC will notify previous grant recipients with more information. Inquiries from businesses should be directed to grants@aaedc.org.

The Anne Arundel County Economic Development Corp. (AAEDC) has updated its list of businesses eligible to apply for the Restaurant and Food Service (RFS) Grant Program to reflect our aim to assist businesses that were not served in previous application rounds.

The AAEDC is now able to disburse $2.1 million from the state of Maryland to fund additional grant applications for restaurants with dine-in seating and no drive through; caterers; county-based businesses with a liquor service license, but no food license; and locally-owned food service establishments with a walk up window.

The new round opens on Monday, April 19, and closes on Friday, April 30. The grants can be used for working capital and expenses related to implementing pandemic related safety measures. Businesses that received a previous RFS grant should not apply again during this reopened application period. Should additional funds be available after this application period closes, AAEDC will notify previous grant recipients with more information. Inquiries from businesses should be directed to grants@aaedc.org.

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