U.S. Army Gen. (Ret.) Keith Alexander, founder of Maple Lawn-based IronNet Cybersecurity, provided the keynote speech at the Howard County Economic Development Authority (HCEDA) Annual Meeting, which was held Oct. 26 at the Sheraton Columbia Town Center Hotel.

The Howard County business community heard updates on flood recovery efforts in Ellicott City during the event, as well as presentations on the state of business in the county and the growing cybersecurity challenges to national security.

“I’m pleased to see the redevelopment continue in Downtown Columbia with Little Patuxent Square and the first of the Crescent properties nearing completion, and the second Metropolitan building under construction,” said Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman. “I believe we are poised to see an amazing transformation of Downtown Columbia into a vibrant urban area.”

Kittleman acknowledged the “incredible work” HCEDA accomplished in the county’s response to the Ellicott City flood and the recovery efforts.

“They were there right away, within hours, and started that relationship-building with businesses to make sure they knew what resources were available and to connect them with the right people,” he said.

Prior to the disaster, said HCEDA CEO Larry Twele, Ellicott City’s Historic District was home to more than 140 businesses, 200 residents and more than 950 employees. The HCEDA plans to release an economic impact study of the flood in the near future.

“Over the course of the 12 months following the flood, we will lose more than $67 million in direct and indirect economic activity that Ellicott City generates,” Twele said. “It is a stunning loss, and we will probably lose about 150 jobs as a result.”

In the interim, he said, more than 40 businesses have reopened, more than $1.4 million in small business loan assistance has been approved or is in process, and HCEDA is working on providing more assistance.

Hails …

Twele shared highlights of HCEDA’s past year during the meeting. Aside from consistently low unemployment and low commercial vacancy rates across industrial, office and retail categories, the county also enjoys an enviable and growing commercial industrial tax base, he said.

HCEDA accomplishments since 2014 include 98 successful new projects that created nearly 4,000 new jobs and retained nearly 5,000, leveraging more than $8 million and absorbing almost 4 million square feet of space. MedStar Health, Tenable Network Security, NetCraftsmen, G. Cefalu & Brother and Iron World are among the businesses relocating, expanding or adding new jobs in the county, Twele said.

“Almost 2,000 jobs have been created, and more than 2,000 jobs have been retained as a result of the projects we have worked on this year,” he said. “The projects we have touched created almost $130 million of capital investment.”

HCEDA’s Catalyst Loan Fund has also arranged 28 loans for smaller projects during the past two years, totaling about $4 million and leveraging nearly $7 million, and creating more than 200 jobs in the manufacturing, information technology and cybersecurity sectors.

Additionally, the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship (MCE) currently houses 23 residents and 45 affiliates, and welcomed 12 new companies. According to Twele, cross-tenant sales have grown by more than $3.5 million, and investment in those companies exceeds $10 million.

… and Farewells

Twele announced a small business investment fund called the Gold Fund to honor HCEDA’s MCE Program Director Stewart Gold, who passed away earlier this year.

Tracy Turner, director of the Howard Tech Council, announced an annual award to honor Patricia Keeton, associate vice president of Continuing Education at Howard Community College, who also passed away this year.

The Keeton Award will recognize a noncredit science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM) student at Howard Community College (HCC) who aspires to a technology career and serves an internship with a company selected from the Howard Tech Council’s membership base.

Cyber Threats

Addressing cybersecurity, Alexander said he expects that the United States will be seriously challenged in a number of areas.

“I believe we will be challenged during this election season, not just by [cyber] attacks on our electoral system, but they will also come if Russia decides to move on eastern Ukraine,” he said. “I think we will see warfare transform [using cyberweapons] that will impact all of us.”

On Oct. 21, so-called Mirai malware launched multiple denial-of-service cyberattacks against more than 60 major Internet presences and crippled them for hours, using infected Internet-connected devices such as printers, cameras, baby monitors and routers. The affected services included Twitter, Amazon, Visa and a number of press and media outlets, social media platforms and retail sites.

“What you saw [in that attack] could be a test or demonstration to show what could happen if we push back on [Russian Federation President Vladimir] Putin moving into eastern Ukraine, or China into the South China Sea,” Alexander said. “These types of things are the future, and our nation is not ready to defend itself. We don’t have the tools, we don’t have industry and government working together, and we’re at risk.”

One major problem, he said, is that the Department of Defense and intelligence community cannot see the attacks that target industry.

“We have to come up with a way for industry and government to communicate at network speed,” he said. “I think it is something that can be done. The question is, will it be done before we have that Cyber Pearl Harbor that [former] Secretary of Defense Leon Panetta talked about? Unfortunately, I think it’s coming sooner rather than later.”

Technically, Alexander said, the United States can meet the challenge.

“It’s policy,” he said, adding that the most important thing Howard County, and indeed, Maryland, can do is to create a welcome environment that attracts businesses and people with the necessary technical skills that will develop a solution.

“You’re doing a good job,” Alexander said, “and the fact that you’ve got the No. 1 city in the United States helps.”