In his final State of the County speech, Howard County Executive Ken Ulman assessed his two terms in Howard's highest office, concluding that his administration had accomplished much of what it had set out to do.
"Seven years ago, I stood before you and laid out the challenge that I believe defines our work: How do you take a great county and make it even better? As I look back, I think we can make the case that we've done just that," Ulman told the audience, who gathered at Turf Valley in Ellicott City Thursday afternoon to attend the annual event, hosted by the county's Chamber of Commerce.
"We have strengthened our foundation and looked to the future, figuring out where we want Howard County to be and how to get us there," he said.
Ulman credited the county's successes to "smart investments," "bold initiatives" and "ambitious goals" during his term, which began after the one-term County Council member was elected to the county executive seat in 2006 at age 32.
As he embarks on his last year on the job, Ulman proclaimed that he can "say without a doubt that because of our work together, the state of Howard County is accelerating and strong, forward-focused and vibrant, healthy and nimble, and poised for future success."
Highlights of the past year, according to Ulman, included the completion and launch of the intercounty broadband network, the expansion of a food scrap collection and composting program and a partnership that diverts the county's treated wastewater to cool data centers at Fort Meade, in neighboring Anne Arundel County.
He also took a moment to remember a deadly shooting at The Mall in Columbia in January.
On that Saturday, he said, "we learned firsthand that no place is immune from gun violence."
As the county executive took a moment to recognize Police Chief William McMahon and other first responders, the audience rose for a standing ovation.
Ulman said the county's response should be to "learn lessons from this event and work to prevent future violence."
To that end, he said, he will be including money in his fiscal year 2015 budget for mental health first aid training.
"We need a critical mass of individuals who can identify and respond to these illnesses," he said.
McMahon said mental health issues were at the root of many of his department's cases.
"This whole issue of mental health played out very dramatically on Jan. 25 with the mall shooting," he said, "but these types of issues face people in our community every single day. Our officers are going out and handling incidents that really aren't criminal in nature, they really have the roots of mental health issues, and we need to do more as a community to get comfortable talking about that and helping people to identify it so we don't have issues like we did on Jan. 25."
Throughout his address, Ulman touted the usual list of Howard County's accolades – top schools, a nationally ranked library system and an expansive public parks system – but also made a particular effort to highlight the county's economic successes and support for business.
Ulman said Howard County is "investing to build a culture of entrepreneurship and innovation," through foundations such as the county's Economic Development Authority, the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship and its 3D printing lab, 3D Maryland, and the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab.
"Our vision is to create the best conditions possible for the private sector to grow and thrive, and create the ecosystems that will nurture and accelerate growth," he said.
Examples of public/private sector economic collaboration cited by Ulman include the county's first-ever memorandum of understanding with JHUAPL, signed this year, which will support three emerging companies as they grow their business.
Howard County Economic Development Authority CEO Lawrence Twele called Ulman a "visionary leader."
"[Howard County] is really such a great place to do economic development, and it's clear to see how all the pieces come together," he said. "The investments in parks and recreation, public safety… it's all of those pieces that come together and that really help us become such a great place to do business."
After his final year as county executive is through, Ulman hopes to work in Annapolis. He's currently running for lieutenant governor of Maryland on a ticket with current Lt. Gov. Anthony Brown.
Council member Courtney Watson, a Democrat who is running to take Ulman's place, was out of town Thursday but read an advance copy of the speech and followed the address on Twitter.
"Ken has had a terrific relationship with the County Council and… so much has been accomplished for our citizens in the past eight years, she said. "He has a record of accomplishments on which we will build a bright future for Howard County."
State Sen. Allan Kittleman, the Republican candidate for county executive, was busy in Senate Finance Committee hearings as the General Assembly's session finishes its final weeks and could not immediately comment.