As we look back on the past year, the accomplishments and activity that occurred in Howard County were very exciting, and we anticipate having even more good news in 2016. Across a range of industries, we saw existing companies grow and new companies locate throughout Howard County.

The county continues to be a premier destination for cybersecurity companies. We’ve developed a deep base of companies focused on the government sector; however, as hackers continue to infiltrate high profile companies, there’s been a shift towards serving the private sector. Cybersecurity industry leaders, large and small, have recognized Howard County as an optimal destination thanks to our talented workforce, strategic geography, strong education system and positive business ecosystem. As a case in point, the recent $250 million investment in Tenable was news that brought national recognition that Howard County is CyberCentral.

The redevelopment of Downtown Columbia continues to make visible progress with the completion and opening of residential and retail projects, along with the start of construction on two major office buildings and an additional residential building. With other major mixed-use projects in Downtown Columbia going through planning approvals, the city is well on its way to becoming a sought-after live, work and play community.

Growth in Howard County’s other major master-planned community, Maple Lawn, has also been brisk. Strong residential activity has been balanced with consistent development of commercial and retail space, and office space in this highly amenitized community has been quickly absorbed by companies large and small.

There has also been a great deal of activity in other areas of the county, which is driven by the expansion and growth of businesses that are already located within its boundaries. The Route 1 Corridor is seeing a surge of activity from companies involved with food processing and distribution. Coastal Sunbelt Produce, a leader in the industry and one of the largest employers in the county, is currently constructing a 340,000-square-foot building just east of Route 1, in Laurel. This larger facility will provide the company with enough space to add 500 new jobs, in addition to retaining 1,000 jobs.

Maryland Packaging, a worldwide leader in food product packaging, expanded and became one of only a few businesses in the world to install a state-of-the-art high pressure packaging system. This industry-leading innovation is happening right here at its facility in Elkridge. In addition, a family-owned business, G. Cefalu & Bro., with Capital Seaboard, broke ground in November on a brand new, 160,000-square-foot building in the Baltimore-Washington Logistics Center in Jessup.

The Howard County Economic Development Authority’s support for small business has also increased this past year. Our Catalyst Loan Fund relaunched with new capabilities, fueled by a second investment from the state of Maryland’s Video Lottery Terminal funding. We now have more than $3.5 million in our coffers to help small businesses grow and thrive.

We will also continue to build on the progress made at our Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship, which is where we help startup companies grow and innovate. Under the leadership of our new executive director, Peter Ettinger, we will create new programming and add additional capabilities. This will enable us to better serve not only the needs of budding entrepreneurs, but also to serve as a place for collaboration as we continue to build connections through the Howard Tech Council.

Also, our Accelerator for the Commercialization of Technology (ACT) program will grow in 2016 as we continue to work to match smart entrepreneurs with local federal institutions, turning research into products for the commercial market.

As we look ahead to the coming year, we remain committed to building our local economy. We have dedicated resources to add to our business development team, and we will also be able to better serve the international market and commercial development community.

We expect big things during 2016, and we hope that you are as excited as we are to see what the next year brings for Howard County.