It’s no secret that Howard County wants to attract more business.
County Executive Allan Kittleman in 2017 announced a plan to revamp Downtown Columbia to be a second major location for businesses.
But the county, which boasts more than 400 companies, is losing three companies in cybersecurity-related fields to Baltimore City. DataTribe, AlledgisCyber and Evergreen Advisers are expected to move to an office campus under development in the Port Covington area.
The CEO of Howard’s Economic Development Authority isn’t as concerned as you think.
In fact, Larry Twele sees it as a good thing. He said Howard County is not trying to compete with Baltimore City simply because it can't.
Howard lacks ports, a subway system and the vibrant urban scene that some companies find attractive.
But for companies in search for a suburb that touts a highly ranked school system, where 30 percent of residents hold graduate degrees and 56 percent of college graduates hold a science- or engineering-related degree, Howard could be a desirable location between Baltimore and the nation’s capital.
Twele believes the cyber company moves will benefit the region as a whole.
“The folks in San Jose are going to start paying attention,” Twele said, pointing to the technology hub in California south of San Francisco.
“[The companies that left] wanted to build a cyber exclusive neighborhood. They have a blank slate in Port Covington.” [The cyber hub in Port Covington] is helping to put Maryland on the map,” Twele said.
“We’re cheering it on because that’s how [surrounding counties] do better. It will increase our competitiveness nationally. We are never going to win against the company that wants to be in an urban area. That’s not us,” he said.
Twele views locations with similar attributes — an educated workforce, quality public schools and low crime — as Howard’s main competition.
Twele said that Howard’s “unique” positioning allows for the county to compete with Northern Virginia and, to a certain extent, Silicon Valley because smaller start-ups cannot afford the areas high rent.
The Crystal City area of Arlington County, Va., on Tuesday was picked as a location for an Amazon headquarters, as was Queens, N.Y., a decision that some analysts said will raise the region’s profile as a major business center.
HCEDA last year unsuccessfully tried to court Amazon to place its second headquarters to downtown Columbia. Part of the reason for this failure is that unlike, Northern Virginia, it does not have a subway system— something Amazon wanted.
These realities are among the reasons Twele isn’t trying to compete neighboring counties and why is can’t with Washington, D.C. and Baltimore. Its geographic location makes it impossible. Thats why Twele deems it important to focus on building a “robust retention strategy.”
The idea is that if you focus on ensuring the needs of the current companies are met and the county remains safe, its “greatest asset”— which is human talent, schools stay great, site selectors hired by companies will take notice and come to Howard. This philosophy, he believes, led to Italian-based BTS Bioenergy basing its first American location in Howard.
Daraius Irani, vice president of Towson University’s Division of Strategic Partnerships and Applied Research, in an email said Howard’s “approach is probably the most efficient approach to economic development.”
“[They] are leveraging [their] existing growth companies to attract companies in these areas to locate into your county. It is a long-term strategy and requires discipline and focus,” he said.
The strategy “ensures that the workforce is already there and trained ready to go-an important consideration in a very low unemployment environment,” Irani said.
County Executive-elect Calvin Ball in an interview last week said he plans to continue and intensify this strategy under his administration.