Even though 2018 has only just begun, we at the Howard County Economic Development Authority (HCEDA) are already hard at work and excited about what the upcoming year will bring. This excitement stems from the continued growth and prosperity of the economy from the previous year, and from the big initiatives and projects coming during the year ahead.

Howard County’s economy had another positive year in 2017. The latest unemployment numbers indicated that Howard County was at 3%, well below Maryland’s 3.8% and the national average of 3.9%. Commercial vacancy rates in the county continue to remain equal to or below last year’s, despite more new construction coming online each month.

We also saw continued growth and development in Maple Lawn, as well as witnessed the completion of several new buildings in Downtown Columbia, furthering it along its 30-year plan. A-year-and-a-half after an historic flood ripped through Ellicott City, we watched as the owners of Portalli’s cut the ribbon and reopened their business — joining the 97 other businesses that have reopened since and bringing the reopening rate up to 94%, in what is being called an unprecedented recovery.

In addition, the Howard County community experienced quite a few accolades of its own in the previous year. Still enjoying the 2016 ranking as the “Best Place to Live in America,” Columbia celebrated its 50th anniversary in a year-long celebration looking at Columbia’s past, present and future. And as the county continues to grow and expand, the U.S. Census upped the county to the second position in both counties with advanced degrees per capita and in counties with the highest median household income, making Howard County one of the country’s most affluent and well-educated communities.

Our team at the HCEDA had a great year of helping businesses. Combined, we worked on 61 different projects, which created 1,500 new jobs and kept 546 jobs here in the county. And there was no lack of passion from our team towards helping the business owners in Ellicott City, as they continue their recovery. While the town has come a long way, we understand that the recovery is not done, and we look forward to continuing our support in the years to come.

Building upon our successes from last year, we are looking forward to launching some exciting new initiatives that will help us to better serve the business community during the years to come. Last year, County Executive Allan Kittleman announced his plans to begin the evolution of Columbia Gateway Business Park into an Innovation District. An important component of this plan will be relocating our existing business incubator, the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship, into a larger Innovation Center in the heart of the Columbia Gateway community. This incubator will become a main component of a larger innovation ecosystem and nearly double the size of our existing incubator. With this additional space and premier location, we will be able to create an environment that will better serve businesses of all types and sizes.

This Innovation Center will be a place where businesses can find the resources they need to grow their business to the next level. For some, this will mean the jump into entrepreneurship, but for others it will be access to the resources needed to grow their existing company. No matter what milestone people are looking to cross, we plan to have the resources and tools available to help get them there.

We plan to accomplish this through various tactics. The first is to identify and partner with strategic business support organizations by bringing them in-house to create a more robust business development center. Additionally, we plan to look beyond providing space for just startups, and will instead use some of the newly-acquired space to house successful and growing second stage companies as they transition from the incubator to the business community. By having these successful early stage companies located here, it provides the next generation of entrepreneurs with mentorship and guidance from today’s successful entrepreneurs.

While this project is progressing during the upcoming year, we will never lose sight of serving the remainder of the Howard County business community. More than 80% of the businesses in Howard County have fewer than 25 employees, yet research shows that this is where we will see the most economic growth in the years to come. We feel so strongly about helping these businesses to grow and expand that we added it as a part of our five-year strategic plan and made them a primary audience of the Innovation Center.

As we look back on 2017 and look ahead to 2018, Howard County’s economy remains strong and continues to grow. While we have played a small part in this, the success is thanks to your hard work. Thank you for being here and choosing to do business in Howard County, and we look forward to serving you in the year to come.