We know that our local businesses are the backbone of our community, and I remain committed to ensuring all our businesses, no matter their size, have the best opportunities to not only survive – but thrive. The Howard County Council recently passed my Fiscal year 2024 budget, which included several exciting initiatives to support our local businesses.
One such initiative is the County’s first ever disparity study. This vital study will evaluate and improve current policies and practices to ensure minority, woman and disabled-owned businesses are given equal opportunity to procure contracts with the government. At the beginning of my term as County Executive five years ago, only 100 firms were certified in the Local Business Initiative with the Office of Procurement and Contract Administration. Today, there are more than 365 firms with nearly $23 million dollars spent to date with certified local businesses. The disparity study is an imperative first step in assessing how well our policies achieve our contracting goals. Though the study is expected to take 18-24 months to complete, it will provide a guide to improve our practices for generations to come.
The effects of COVID-19 pandemic continue to impact our local small businesses. That is why I included $2 million in my budget for pandemic relief to continue supporting our local businesses. This includes funds for potential federal and state grant match opportunities. We know that when our small businesses are successful, our entire county is successful.
Beyond the pandemic, we continue to plan for the future. Last month, I issued an Expression of Interest for a Master Plan that will guide the transformation of the Gateway Business Park into the premier “Innovation District” on the East Coast. As the center for innovation, Gateway will leverage the strengths of its location, cutting-edge technology, and a suite of assets to attract employers, residents and visitors from the Baltimore-Washington corridor and beyond. Additionally, revitalization of the area will bring with it a full spectrum of new housing opportunities and desirable public amenities. Interested parties may review the Expression of Interest on our website, and proposals are due on July 5, 2023 before 10:59 a.m.
Don’t forget that June is Homeownership month! This month is a perfect time to learn more about our efforts to promote and expand homeownership for families of all incomes. Creating and sustaining more affordable housing for our low to moderate income families is a necessity in Howard County. At the site of Roslyn Rise, a mixed-income redevelopment project that will provide more than 100 affordable units across the spectrum, I announced $10 million for the Trust Fund in my FY24 budget — that’s a 50% increase from last year’s record investment. We have also included $6.5 million for homeownership and housing rehabilitation initiatives aimed at increasing access to homeownership for limited income homebuyers. While there is still work to do, we will continue our progress to ensure that everyone – educators, first responders, service workers, and more – can live right here in Howard County, the best community for all.
Howard County remains the best places to live, work, play, grow, and thrive due to our collective efforts to ensure people of all ages, abilities, or socioeconomic statuses, have access to the best quality of life possible. We know that when we work together, Howard County will continue to flourish.
Dr. Calvin Ball is Howard County Executive.