From the farms of the western county to the visionary suburb of Columbia to the quirky shops on Main Street in old Ellicott City, Howard County is a slice of Maryland of such diversity that it would seem to invite internal contradictions and become a breeding ground for misunderstandings and turf battles.
Thankfully, that has not happened. In fact, the opposite is usually the case as the county fosters a sense of cooperation between its disparate populations and socioeconomic groups.
This is not by accident. The source of Howard County's team spirit can be largely traced back decades to the origins of Leadership Howard County, a kind of course that enrolls leadership talent into a series of lessons imparting networking skills. The idea is to provide each person who completes the course with a "big picture" of Howard County.
Leadership Howard County, which was launched by the Howard County Chamber of Commerce, marks its 30th year in 2015. In that time it has graduated more than 1,150 "students" in its Leadership Premier program, the nonprofit organization's original 10-month course. Others have graduated from two added programs, Leadership U, which is for rising high school juniors, and Leadership Essentials, a class for young professionals.
Organizers say the program results in a "cross fertilization of ideas" that exposes the interconnectivity of county organizations. The outcome of this experience is a sense of all for one, one for all.
"Howard County is small enough that it's not hard to learn about," said Leadership's president and CEO Stacie Hunt, who completed the course in 2002 as a United Way manager. "Our purpose is to get more people to see that what happens elsewhere impacts the county — we don't have a moat separating us."
One goal of Leadership Howard County is to acknowledge that Columbia is the county's economic powerhouse, but to make sure all communities are given their due.
At the beginning, LHC was regarded as a finite project that would eventually run out of steam. That proved unfounded. This year's class of 49 leaders graduated June 9. They will join the existing cadre of men and women who serve in industry, politics, nonprofits, government work and other fields and who share a common goal — what's best for Howard County.