Democratic Howard County executive candidate Courtney Watson has released an economic platform that focuses on expanding the county's investment in cyber security training and business development.
In her platform, Watson, a County Council member from Ellicott City, calls Howard County "the ideal place for for the cyber security industry to take advantage of our proximity to the federal government's new cyber command center at the National Security Agency [in Fort Meade], our highly educated workforce and our superb public education system."
Watson, who also works as vice president of regional insurance firm Rossmann-Hurt-Hoffman, said the county should leverage those assets with an "aggressive" marketing campaign geared toward cyber security companies by creating a cyber security "center of excellence," which Watson envisions as a partnership with higher education institution to act as a resource to help local businesses capitalize on the growing industry.
Her platform also focuses on continuing, and in some cases expanding support for the county's business development organizations, including the Howard County Economic Development Authority, its business incubator at the Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship and a technology commercialization accelerator at the Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Lab.
With the county's recent acquisition of the Columbia Flier building as the new home of the Center for Entrepreneurship, Watson said she envisions creating a partnership between the center and Howard Community College, which is across the street. Her platform also suggests expanding usage of the InterCounty Broadband Network, a state-built internet provider linking government institutions, schools and some businesses across Maryland, by encouraging "data-focused companies" to locate in business centers hooked up to the network.
The platform also addresses business retention and expansion of the county's commercial tax base, a concern for many Republicans in the state.
Watson proposes streamlining state and local regulations, using targeted tax credits to stimulate business, "review[ing] the local incentives fund to determine ways to remain competitive with other jurisdictions in attracting relocating businesses" and diversifying the commercial tax base by promoting Howard County's quality of life.
She also proposes designating a liaison between her office and the business community, similar to a plan in her education platform to create a liaison to the Board of Education.
Watson and her opponent, Republican state senator Allan Kittleman, met to debate the current and future economic climate in Howard last week in a forum sponsored by the county's Chamber of Commerce.
Kittleman recently unveiled a new proposal of his own for HoCo Stat, a performance-review system intended to increase government accountability by tracking its progress on stated goals.