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New COVID limits in Howard County

Photo courtesy Howard County Government.

County Executive Calvin Ball announced new COVID-19 restrictions after Howard County reached a 5% positivity rate and a case rate of 19.1 per 100,000 residents. A new Executive Order prohibits indoor gatherings of more than 10 people and outdoor gatherings of more than 25 people effective Tuesday, November 17 at 5:00 p.m.

The Department of Recreation & Parks has canceled all tournaments that include out-of-state participants and redoubled its efforts on mask-wearing for all other programs, leagues, and tournaments. Additionally, Ball announced the launch of a “Stay COVID Safe” communications campaign for Howard County, to inform and remind the public on simple steps everyone can take to stop the spread of the virus.

“We’ve been closely monitoring our data in Howard County, the nation-wide increases we’re seeing are also happening here in Howard County,” said Ball. “As we approach Thanksgiving and our winter holidays, it is vital that we act swiftly and thoughtfully to stop this spike in cases, keep our residents safe and well. Our decisions will continue to be data-informed and people-driven. Through our contact tracing efforts, we’ve identified transmission from family or close friends makes up much of our cases. If we all wear masks whenever around people outside our household, we will be able to crush this curve.”

Gathering Limits
County Executive Ball issued an Executive Order prohibiting indoor social gatherings of more than 10 people and outdoor social gatherings of more than 25 people. Under the Executive Order “social gatherings” include:

  • Family gatherings
  • Parties
  • Cookouts
  • Parades
  • Festivals
  • Conventions
  • Fundraisers
  • Other gatherings not associated with operating or patronizing a business that sells        merchandise

The order excludes retail stores, offices, foodservice establishments, social and fraternal organizations and associations clubs, recreation sports and programs, religious gatherings, wedding receptions at a wedding venue, indoor theaters and outdoor entertainment venues.

“Given our data and current situation in Howard County it is imperative that we make a renewed and concerted effort to reduce transmission of this virus,” said Dr. Maura Rossman, Howard County Health Officer. “Wear a mask/face covering. Maintain a distance of at least 6 feet between yourself and others. Wash your hands. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces. And limit visits with those outside of our households.”

“Since the beginning of this pandemic, Howard County residents and businesses have been overwhelmingly compliant with restrictions intended to protect the health and safety of their families, friends and customers,” said Police Chief Lisa Myers. “With these new measures, we have every reason to believe that our communities will continue to lead by example and follow the guidelines to reduce the number of positive cases and slow the spread.”

“Howard County Fire and Rescue continues to stand ready and serve our community to the highest level in the response to the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Fire Chief William Anuszewski. “We are staffed, equipped with PPE, and have continued successful practices to maintain the safety of our firefighters and paramedics. I ask that everyone does their part to assist in the protection of our emergency responders, so we can continue to be there for our community in their time of need.”

“We have all been through this arduous event together, but it isn’t over yet,” said Mike Hinson, Director of the Office of Emergency Management. “We will need to stay focused on protective measures such as wearing masks, hand washing, and staying physically distant, and work as a community to keep each other safe.”

Recreation & Parks Updates
The Maryland Department of Health has issued an expanded advisory regarding avoiding all out-of-state travel that is non-essential, especially to states with a positivity rate of more than 10%. The Department of Recreation & Parks is canceling all tournaments with out of state participants to ensure the utmost safety of all athletes and residents. At this time, Howard County Recreation & Parks leagues, programs, and in-state tournaments will continue playing.

“With our parks and facilities being an outlet for people during this pandemic, I understand the mental and physical health benefits that exercise and being outside brings. Our department is doing everything we can to help keep this opportunity available for children and adults,” said Director of Recreation & Parks Raul Delerme. “We are requiring face coverings when not exercising, conducting health checks, practicing rigorous cleaning practices, and more.”

Stay COVID Safe Campaign
The “Stay COVID Safe” communications campaign for Howard County will inform and remind the public on simple steps everyone can take to stop the spread of the virus. Consistent, persistent and persuasive messaging is needed to break through the COVID fatigue we are all experiencing. To Stay COVID Safe, this campaign will be all-hands-on deck to make sure that our community knows and adheres to recommendations and guidance. Howard County will establish a team of ambassadors to engage residents in our communities, encourage people to wear masks and to avoid hosting or attending large gatherings. The County will also utilize partnerships within the community – with our local businesses, libraries, restaurants, and more to ensure that everyone has the resources and knowledge to Stay COVID Safe.

Ball announces more HoCo RISE grants


Howard County Executive Calvin Ball announced additional CARES Act funding through a second round of HoCo RISE business grants.

Howard County distributed more than $1.6 million through the first round HoCo RISE business grants to local restaurants, retail, farms, childcare, and hotels. All businesses that received grants in the first round will get a second round of funding through a streamlined process, ranging from $3,000-6,000, an increase from $2,500 in the first round of grants. The second round of grants are also open to new qualified applicants in the same sectors.

Howard County restaurants will also receive support from the $2.5 million allocated by Maryland’s Restaurant Relief fund, meaning restaurants will receive a minimum of $10,000 and up to $17,000 relief from these combined efforts.

Ball also announced Howard County Chamber of Commerce organizations with business memberships would receive $10,000.

Recertifications and applications for the grants are open through November 29 and can be accessed via the Howard County Economic Development Authority at www.hceda.org/c19grants.

“The Howard County Economic Development Authority is proud to be part of the Executive’s HoCo RISE initiatives,” said Larry Twele, CEO of the Howard County Economic Development Authority. “By supporting the business assistance grants, we will be getting more financial assistance to our small businesses who have been severely impacted by this pandemic and we are looking forward to supporting the work of the Collaborative as we work with local business leaders to provide insight and guidance on strategies for our local economy during this crisis.”

“The Howard County Chamber is once again proud to partner with the County Executive and the Howard County Economic Development Authority on the HoCo RISE Collaborative,” said Leonardo McClarty, President of the Howard County Chamber of Commerce. “As the Covid-19 virus continues to impact our community, it is important that business and government work together to develop processes that keep the economy open and employees and customers safe. We are also appreciative of the County Executive’s support of the Chamber through this latest round of grants. As an organization that was not eligible for federal relief due to our tax status, these funds are much appreciated and will be put to good use.”

Q&A with Ben Birge

Ben Birge

A statistician by trade, Ben Birge spent his career in the governmental public policy with a focus on budget and program management as well as statistical analysis. In 2018, he started working for Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman as chief administrative officer.

When former president and CEO, Jerry Walker, left the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp. (AAEDC) earlier this year, Birge stepped up to a new opportunity.

He shared his thoughts and observations with The Business Monthly after his first several months on the job during the COVID-19 pandemic.

How is the AAEDC working with small businesses now?

First and foremost, we constantly talk with businesses to find out what they need by sector, geography and demographics. We’ve already distributed $5 million in grants, which helped small businesses purchase whatever they needed, from signage to setting up their staffs for telework, to respond to the current market. Some were wondering if taking money was worth the risk since they would eventually have to pay it back, but this move took that aspect off the table.

How many were helped with the AAEDC’s Customer and Employee Protection (CEP)?

The program was a resounding success, helping more than 790 Anne Arundel County small businesses from June 3 through July 24. It was supported by Anne Arundel County’s allotment of CARES Act funding.

What is the progress of the town center projects in Annapolis?

There has been discussion of connecting infrastructure to the town center, perhaps via new walkways. There also may be a continuation from the developer’s side of negotiations with Wegman’s concerning the former USInternetworking (nee Nationwide Insurance) space on Riva Road. However, that has all but stopped because of COVID-19.

… Annapolis Junction …

The mixed-use project has been up and running. It offers a nice mix of office and residential with neighborhood retail, as well as easy road access to The National Business Park, which is just across Route 32. There could also be some data centers in the works there.

… Odenton …

We have engaged many times with the Maryland Department of Transportation concerning the home of the state’s second busiest MARC station. We’re now analyzing the impact of building the much-discussed parking garage, which would need to include more than 1,500 spaces. The state owns much of the property where the current parking lots are situated, so we’re also exploring opportunities for expansion with local landowners; we have most of the construction budget needed to proceed.

We’re very happy about the opening of Town Center Boulevard. One of our team members attends all of the Odenton Town Center (OTC) meetings. The advisory committee meets monthly and we’re working with them on a series of ideas, and the OTC Committee will be releasing its recommendations to the county executive soon.

… and Glen Burnie?

I have been wanting to see Glen Burnie Town Center turn into something big for 30 years. We are working with Councilmember Allison Pickard to acquire grants for improvements, but we need redevelopment, especially in the retail and residential categories. There’s way too much potential there for us to give up because it’s close to the center of the county’s population. We’re working on getting a farmer’s market opened there by next summer.

What’s the latest redevelopment plan for the former Southview Shopping Center in Brooklyn Park?

There’s Woodfall Greens, a fairly new multi-family housing project, that went up on the corner of Hammonds Lane. Lidl (the grocery store chain, which is soon to open in Glen Burnie’s Harundale Plaza) is thinking of expanding there.

What is the potential for Marley Station?

It’s a prime opportunity for mixed-use and we’re trying to determine the percentage for each sector, since it won’t require as much retail. Based on its location at the intersection of routes 2 and 100, Marley Station, with retail, residential and commercial elements, plus the bike trail that runs behind the mall, would be a huge draw.

The Westfield Annapolis Mall has lost three of its five anchor stores.

Similar opportunities are being considered for Westfield Annapolis, too. Mall officials are already meeting with our office and we’re trading information. They know something has to change, but it has to be done the right way before any sketch plans are released.

What stats about the county’s economy do you find eye catching?

Anne Arundel continues to trend downward in unemployment claims. We account for about 10 percent of the state’s population and initially we were at 10 percent of the unemployment claims – but we’ve knocked that number down to 5.5-6 percent. Our employment situation is improving faster than the statewide average. Also, we continue to see new businesses opening, often in the industrial and distribution sectors, including companies such as Paragon Bioservices, Whitebox and others.

What are AAEDC performance metrics?

We count what we can control. We can’t control job growth or the commercial tax base, but we can provide workforce training programs, finance programs and mentorship. Then we can see if the hoped-for job growth actually happens if a company we mentored is still in business a couple of years later.

Today, we’re analyzing the impact of our farmer’s markets, and our performance working with women and minority businesses. So, there are numerous ways we calculate performance. On that note, know that economic development is the Bermuda Triangle of measuring performance; agencies go down rabbit holes and want to talk about how they shape the economy – which they cannot do.

What are your thoughts about transportation?

First off, I’m happy about the expansion and the traffic flow on the updated section of Route 175, including the turn lanes and the signaling, as well as the redesign of the entrances at Fort Meade. They’re set back, so they pull traffic off Route 175 much more easily. We also feel an important component of our plan is forming a good partnership with Howard County, due to so much cross-pollination.

What new programs are you working on?

We are in the final phases of developing a minority business tool box because we know they have suffered disproportionately during the pandemic. We want to be seen as an organization that helps not only large businesses, but small business that are struggling to get a bank loan. That’s where we spend most of our time.

What’s the hardest aspect of your job?

Hearing from struggling citizens. It’s gut wrenching.

What’s the best thing about it thus far?

I inherited the best team anywhere. A number of people told me coming in that it was the best team in the county, but you hear that a lot from people. This turned out to be the case. I haven’t been around a more productive and dedicated team anywhere. The fact that they also get along so well is icing on the cake.

By Mark R. Smith | Senior Writer | The Business Monthly | November 2020

Will Maglev be rolling soon?


The campaign to bring the magnetic levitation railway train, known in transportation circles as the Northeast Maglev, to the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. area, continues.

A Federal Railroad Administration and the Maryland Department of Transportation Maryland Transit Administration’s Environmental Impact Study (EIS) is expected to be released Jan. 22 opening a round of commentary and debate for the $10 billion Baltimore-Washington Super Conducting (or SC) Maglev Project.

‘Full Force’

According to Northeast Maglev, there are 12 different routes under consideration for the Baltimore-Washington segment, including a no build option. Other Baltimore stops could include Downtown and Cherry Hill.

While acknowledging that COVID-19 “has created unprecedented challenges that will be felt for years to come,” said Chairman and CEO Wayne Rogers. “With those challenges comes an incredible opportunity to invest in bold projects that go beyond the status quo and put us on a sustainable and efficient path forward.”

The Northeast Maglev is a project, said Rogers, “that will rely on proven technology to build a 311-mph superconducting maglev train that complements existing networks and re-energizes the aging Northeast corridor. As the economic ramifications live on well past the virus, the project will play a key role in helping our economy get back on track – creating 74,000 construction jobs, 1,500 permanent jobs and providing a shot in the arm to the state’s Gross Domestic Product.”

It would also change the lives of millions of people in the Baltimore-Washington area “as we recapture the 102 hours per year wasted in traffic. The effort to build the project,” he said, “continues full force.”

As for those commuters who have sat in their cars for those 102 hours per year, “Many are returning to their daily commutes already, and when SCMAGLEV service begins from Washington, D.C., to Baltimore with a stop at BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, our project aims to eliminate millions of automobile trips each year. That means reduced commute times and unlocked career opportunities, providing better access to jobs and to job centers.”

From D.C.

As has been seen in recent months, Rogers continued, taking cars off the road “also means less toxic emissions, improved air quality and continued strides in the fight against climate change.”

“For those who did drive, many never knew how much our poor infrastructure was costing us,” he said. “While COVID-19 has temporarily changed the way we live and work, population in our area continues to increase and with it, demands on our infrastructure.” 

As for the economy, he said “We anticipate the economy will adjust and while there may be some people continuing post-pandemic to work from home, the majority will return to their jobs. Climate change is becoming an ever-present problem. We are laser-focused on the world we can create for ourselves. We want to not return to normal, but to return to better.”

The word also continues in the affirmative from Jack McDougle, president and CEO of the Greater Washington Board of Trade. “We are very excited about the SCMaglev Project. In addition to allowing residents and visitors to travel between D.C. and BWI [Marshall] in just 15 minutes, we expect the project to create thousands of jobs and boost our regional Gross Domestic Product.

“The project is also the first step towards a longer-term goal of connecting D.C. and New York, with travel times estimated at under an hour,” McDougle said. “The project has obvious, practical benefits for our region, but it also signals a desire to lead the world in transportation technology, which we fully endorse.”

The Money  

The reaction from community members and others, of course, is the opposite, with multiple concerns about the cost to build the SCMaglev, as well as ride it and the time it would take to build it, among others.

“Most of our community is opposed to it,” said Dan Woomer of the Linthicum-Shipley Improvement Association. “I think you’ll find that most communities are against it.”

That’s much to do with the economic angle. “It won’t generate enough revenue to operate here because Baltimore doesn’t have the economic base to support it,” said Woomer. “To make money it has to go to Philadelphia and New York. Some people think Baltimore should be bypassed.”

While acknowledging that the SCMaglev is an interesting technology, he said “there are rail trains in Europe that are faster. Though Maglev is three times as fast as the MARC train, it’s also five times the cost; it will be $50 a trip, instead of $10 for the MARC.”

No Shift

Bill Boone, a board member of Citizens Against The SCMaglev, is concerned about its financial feasibility, as well as how many people will be working from home after the pandemic dissipates.

“I think we’re still back to the basics of [Northeast Maglev] not having proven the need for or the financial feasibility of this project,” said Boone. “We’ve been asking for ridership numbers for three years. Also, bear in mind that this is not mass transmit for any metro area. With one stop in each city, few people would use it. And it won’t move cars off of the local roads; upgrading infrastructure would accomplish that.”

Another observer who questions the need for the SCMaglev is Anne Arundel County Councilmember Sarah Lacey, who represents District 1. “I don’t think there has been any significant shift of public opinion in Linthicum,” she said. “The Maglev does not propose enough benefit to the community to offset the heavy burdens it would be forced to bear.

“Indeed, with the increased acceptance of telework,” she said, “one wonders why the Maglev would ever benefit enough riders to pay for itself.”

For now, the public will soon be able to comment throughout the EIS process at http://bwmaglev.info. The official Draft EIS is slated to be released to the public in winter/spring 2021.

By Mark Smith | Senior Writer | The Business Monthly | November 2020 Issue

CQI-CMC energy co-op program expands


CQI Associates, partner of the Central Maryland Chamber’s (CMC) Energy Co-op Program, has announced the expansion of the program to also include propane and heating oil.

As a chamber member benefit, the program provides savings for a member’s home or business, as well as for their family, employees, and their families with no enrollment fee.

For more information contact Joe Tabeling at 443-472-3870 or joe@cqiassociates.com.

Authority Brands acquires STOP restoration


Authority Brands, of Columbia, has purchased Service Team of Professionals (STOP) Restoration. The acquisition marks the seventh brand addition for Authority since October 2018, with STOP representing the company’s ninth brand in its home service portfolio. Terms of the transaction were not disclosed.

For decades, STOP has been helping clients transform dealing with disasters into achieving peace of mind. Based in Indiana and currently operating in 31 territories across the U.S., STOP’s trained franchise professionals understand how stressful fire, water and mold damage can be, and bring a depth in management and professionalism to simplify the restoration process.

Authority Brands‘ companies include The Cleaning Authority, Homewatch CareGivers, America’s Swimming Pool Company, Mosquito Squad, Benjamin Franklin Plumbing, Mister Sparky, One Hour Heating & Air Conditioning and Monster Tree Service. Authority Brands supports individual franchisee growth by providing strong marketing, technology and operational support.

“We’re excited to be joining Authority Brands as its newest home service company. With the robust marketing, operations and IT resources now available to us, we’re eager to continue our growth and propel our success as we work to further our position as a leader in the industry,” said Brian Clarkpresident at STOP Restoration.

COPT forms $293M data center joint venture with Blackstone 


Columbia-based Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT) has announced the formation of new joint ventures with funds affiliated with Blackstone Real Estate. The new ventures are acquiring interests in eight single-tenant, data center shell properties totaling 1.3 million square feet and valued at $293 million.

In a recently closed transaction, Blackstone Real Estate acquired a 90 percent interest in two of COPT’s wholly owned data center shell properties valued at $90 million. Blackstone has also signed an agreement to acquire a 90 percent interest in six other data center shell properties partially owned by COPT. That transaction is expected to close before the end of the year.

“We believe data centers will continue to benefit from strong secular tailwinds, including immense demand growth as internet traffic and the use of cloud services continue to rise,” said Tyler Henritze, head of acquisitions Americas for Blackstone. “These transactions are attractive opportunities to invest in high-quality powered shell warehouses in the premier market globally. We have an excellent partner in COPT and look forward to continuing to build our relationship over the long-term.”

TEDCO allies to develop AI-enabled resources 


The Columbia-based Maryland Technology Development Corp. (TEDCO) has selected EcoMap Technologies to develop an AI-enabled platform for gathering information about all of Maryland’s entrepreneurial resources and funding information in one place.

The state’s ecosystem is filled with various organizations, incubators, accelerators, investment funds, events and other entities providing valuable support to entrepreneurs. These resources can be difficult to locate; in an effort to address this challenge, the Maryland Department of Commerce and the University System of Maryland are collaborating to implement a new, comprehensive web-based solution that will aggregate tech development resource, asset, and support services information across thousands of websites relevant to our ecosystem.

Users will be able to easily explore and locate reliable, up-to-date information on incubators, accelerators, grants and funding opportunities, events, mentoring, and more, based on their specific needs related to their stage of growth, industry sector, founder type, or type of business.

“Creating a one-stop shop for all of Maryland’s many resources helps better equip our entrepreneurs with the tools they need to start or run a business,” said Maryland Commerce Secretary Kelly Schulz. “Instead of spending time trying to track down potential funding options or looking for potential partners, this platform will enable entrepreneurs to focus more on doing what they do best.”

EcoMap Technologies is a Maryland-based technology company that leverages AI in order to build robust and scalable databases of assets within entrepreneurial ecosystems. Its technology allows it to customize platforms for cities, states and countries, and keep all information continually updated.

Casinos raise $142.7M in October 


Maryland’s six casinos generated $142,660,085 in gaming revenue during October of 2020. While casino capacities remain limited to 50% due to COVID-19 restrictions, the total represents a decrease of just 0.9% ($1,235,325) compared to the October 2019 total of $143,895,409. Four casinos saw increases from their October 2019 gaming revenues.

Casino contributions to the state in October 2020 were $59,933,270, an increase of $666,130 (1.1%) compared to the $59,267,140 contributed to the state in October 2019.

Contributions to the Education Trust Fund (ETF) in October 2020 were $43,576,492, a decrease of $879,874 (-2.0%) compared to the $44,456,366 in ETF contributions during October 2019. Casino gaming revenues also support the communities and jurisdictions where the casinos are located, Maryland’s horse racing industry, and small, minority- and women-owned businesses.

Maryland’s six privately owned casinos include three in the area: Live! Casino & Hotel, Hanover; Horseshoe Casino Baltimore, Baltimore City; and the MGM National Harbor, Oxon Hill. Here are the revenue totals for last month:

MGM National Harbor (1,699 slot machines, 190 table games)

$56,568,030 in October 2020, a decrease of $3,297,420 (-5.5%) from October 2019

Live! Casino & Hotel (2,391 slot machines, 184 table games)

$49,561,568 in October 2020, an increase of $1,951,984 (4.1%) from October 2019

Horseshoe Casino Baltimore (1,028 slot machines, 152 table games)

$17,331,317 in October 2020, a decrease of $1,816,187 (-9.5%) from October 2019

Details on each casino’s gaming revenues and contributions to the State of Maryland are included in the attached charts, and both fiscal and calendar year-to-date totals are available at www.mdgaming.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/11/October-2020-Casino-Revenue-Data.pdf.

Vision Innovation Partners acquires Omni Eye 


Vision Innovation Partners, of Annapolis, has acquired Omni Eye Specialists, a multi-specialty ophthalmology group in the Baltimore metro area. Complete with six locations, Omni has a long and esteemed history of providing the highest level of comprehensive medical eye care services.

This acquisition strengthens Vision’s presence in the Baltimore market and further expands its growing network of ophthalmology practices in the mid-Atlantic.

“Joining Vision Innovation Partners enhances the services we can provide to our patient base and community, including the use of two state-of-the-art surgical centers with convenient locations in Towson and Columbia, and access to a network of eye doctors in the region who will further complement the services we provide to our patients. I am very encouraged that our partnership with Vision Innovation Partners will be a fruitful one for many years to come,” said Dr. Ivan Garcia, M.D., medical director of Omni Eye Specialists.

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