Since the start of intense fighting in Israel and Gaza earlier this month, I have been asked several times for my reaction. It is a concern for many in our community because of loved ones in the region and in danger. I am proud of the positive relationships we have developed over the years with both Jewish and Muslim groups. In Montgomery County, we have seen all faith groups typically show strength and solidarity in opposition to atrocities. Our goal now is to stand together through these hard times. Whatever is happening over there, it does not mean we lose our collective community here. We all want to be safe and protect our kids from the kind of hate that leads to bullying, harassment and attacks.
When I was interviewed live this week on Fox 5, the first subject I was asked about was antisemitic graffiti found in a Gaithersburg neighborhood. Like a large majority of people in the community, I am horrified by these slurs. When things like this happen, we must be vocal as a community to let those responsible know we will not tolerate this kind of hateful rhetoric in our community.
The County Council and I this week expedited more than $300,000 in Nonprofit Security Grant funding to Jewish, Muslim, Sikh and Zoroastrian houses of worship and schools, as well as to other community organizations. This money will provide immediate assistance for local organizations to invest in various security measures to protect their communities and facilities. Since the terror attacks in Israel, Montgomery County Police have increased its patrols and presence around houses of worship and gatherings.
I want to thank Ron Halber of the Jewish Community Relations Council (JCRC) for identifying this need and I thank the Montgomery County Muslim Council and JCRC for helping identify vulnerable locations.
I also want to thank the County Council for its support of this funding and thank County Government staff members who are working to get this money to recipients with as little red tape as possible.
We will not tolerate acts of hate by anyone. I hope all of us can grieve as we need to, but that we can also restrain ourselves from lashing out at neighbors and friends. I am determined do everything in my power to make sure that Montgomery County remains a safe place for all.
Economic Development Week
This is Economic Development Week across the State of Maryland. In Montgomery County, our economy is doing well. As I have detailed in previous newsletters, we have been able to achieve our lowest unemployment rate in more than 30 years.
We continue to make strides in opening the door to more companies looking to expand, relocate or create their business here. Last week, the Maryland Department of Commerce received a $750,000 grant from the U.S. Small Business Administration to give the State a bigger footprint in the world economy. The money will be used to broaden international reach, help local companies create jobs and find new markets. Of the 32 Maryland companies receiving money, 16 of them are from Montgomery County. Many of them worked with County staff to apply for these funds.
The County also has been helping businesses through the early stages of development. We have been able to use our business incubators to help entrepreneurs develop the skills they need to bring their ideas to market. We are providing workforce training in collaboration with the Universities at Shady Grove, Montgomery College and WorkSource Montgomery, an organization that helps people starting out in their working lives and for those changing careers.
These workforce training programs, our schools, our strong communities, the major Federal facilities located here and our highly educated population are among the many reasons bio-tech, information technology, cybersecurity and hospitality companies have been able to thrive here.
Our unique Ag Reserve and agricultural communities are part of our economic growth. The opening of The Crossvines in Poolesville earlier this year was an important part of our strategy to help make agriculture economically viable. The Crossvines is a grape-crush facility and home to a great new restaurant and events space.
I have been particularly excited about Crossvines because it grew out of a conversation I had more than 10 years ago with Kevin Atticks, who is now the Maryland Secretary of Agriculture. At the time, Kevin represented value-added agriculture industries and we talked about how grapes could be grown in our soil.
From there, I talked with Keith Miller at the Montgomery County Revenue Authority and the journey began. We have some great wineries already in the area and more are coming.
County Executive Marc Elrich meets with Maryland Secretary of Agriculture Kevin Atticks while touring Burnt Hill Farm
On Wednesday, I toured Burnt Hill Farm in Clarksburg with Secretary Atticks. We learned how this farm, with its biodynamic practices, can produce natural wine while also drawing in tourists. He and I believe in the benefit of value-added agriculture being produced in Montgomery County.
Montgomery County is home to a robust, diverse and talented group of entrepreneurs. From here, companies are connected to Federal agencies, many different funding opportunities and a network of life science and data driven companies. We continue to be home to one of the top school systems in the nation. There are many reasons why our economic opportunities should continue to grow, and Montgomery County is committed to helping those companies find their footing here. Check out our Business Center website for all ways we are here to help.
Economic Missions to India and Vietnam
A key component to our potential economic development success is becoming a destination for international businesses.
Over the next two weeks, I will be going on economic development trade missions to India and Vietnam—two of the most robust and booming economies in the world. I will be joined by County Council President Evan Glass and County business leaders for these important trade missions.
My goal is to find new ways for Montgomery County to partner with businesses in Vietnam and India. We are looking for opportunities to bring jobs, new technologies and new products to the County.
India and Vietnam are two important economic engines with already-established business and cultural ties to Montgomery County.
According to the most recent statistics from the Department of State, Indian investment in the United States totaled $12.7 billion, supporting more than 70,000 American jobs. As you can see from the chart above, nearly one-third of Indian investments are going toward the life sciences, pharmaceutical and health care industries. Montgomery County is the heart of the third-largest life science cluster in the nation, second-best in terms of workforce available and home to Federal institutions such as the FDA, the National Institutes of Health and the National Institute of Standards and Technology. We are excited about the potential for new economic opportunities and partnerships.
Vietnam’s economy is currently booming. It is the fastest-growing economy in Asia with eight percent growth. Vietnam is now our nation’s eighth-largest trading partner.
I look forward to telling the people we will meet with on our trip about our partnership with the University of Maryland to create the Institute for Health Computing at the North Bethesda Metro Station. This institute will leverage recent advances in artificial intelligence and computing to increase speed and efficiencies in the creation and testing processes in the life science industries. This institute is on the cutting edge of innovation, and I expect that we will receive positive feedback like we heard when we went to Taiwan earlier this year. One thing I learned from my visit to Taipei is that Montgomery County already has a good reputation. I met many people who had studied here or lived in the States and had a sense of the work we do. Our reputation as a diverse, inclusive and safe community precedes us, and makes it a lot easier to promote Montgomery County.
We also will be promoting eight organizations that received ExportMD grants from the Maryland Department of Commerce to travel to these countries to find customers and/or suppliers.
It makes a lot of sense to use the diversity we have in this County as a strength. Our Business Center, with support from the Maryland Department of Commerce, recently welcomed seven companies from Taiwan, Korea, France and Tanzania into our incubators. We are offering grant funding for international companies opening a lab or office in one of our business incubators. We also are able to navigate referrals to other resources in the County that businesses may need.
On my first trade mission, I was pleasantly surprised to meet so many people who knew of, or were already connected to, Montgomery County. I met many people who had studied here or lived in the United States and had a sense of the work we do. Our reputation as a diverse, inclusive and safe community precedes us and it makes it a lot easier to promote Montgomery County. I look forward to sharing more about my trip over the next two weeks on my Facebook, Instagram and Twitter pages.
Department of Permitting Services Adopts Residential Fast Track
Two changes within the Department of Permitting Services have led to significant improvements on the time it takes to get permits on some housing projects.
Residential Fast Track and an “Apply Online” portal have been credited with turning around some permit applications within days rather than the process lasting weeks. Projects must fit certain criteria to take advantage of the Fast Track program. Some of those projects that qualify include:
- Single-level decks.
- Finishing basements and attics without structural changes and with a floor area of 400 square feet or less.
- Installing sheds, gazebos and other detached non-habitable accessory structures that are 200 square feet or less.
- Alterations not exceeding 400 square feet and not involving a load-bearing wall.
- Remodeling bathrooms or kitchens less than 400 square feet.
- Accessory ramps.
The County offered the Fast Track program prior to COVID-19 for walk-in customers only. Now we can offer it online and allow customers to take advantage of the easy application process.
Our customers have asked us for changes like this to make simple home projects easier to accomplish quickly. I am glad our Department of Permitting Services has been responsive to these requests.
October is Energy Action Month
October is Energy Action Month, but in reality, we focus on these kinds of issues every week in my newsletter and across Montgomery County. It is a reminder that we all need to conserve energy, transition to cleaner energy sources and implement best practices and policies around energy use.
Buildings account for about half of current greenhouse gas emissions so changes within can make a big difference.
Two pieces of legislation that we recently passed to address energy usage are our Building Energy Performance Standards (or BEPS) and our Comprehensive Building Decarbonization law.
These new laws and regulations will help reduce energy use in existing large commercial buildings and residential buildings, as well as require all-electric building standards for new construction. You can see in the chart below about the benchmarking progress we have made and the gains we anticipate through 2024 in the number of buildings and amount of office space complying with higher standards.
As more of our electricity is coming from renewable sources like wind and solar, using electric appliances, instead of gas ones, is a key part of reducing pollution. Going electric at home entails the adoption of electric heating, cooking and cooling options. Replacing gas appliances with electric ones helps reduce or eliminate the use of fossil fuels like natural gas, propane and oil and improves air quality.
Induction stoves deliver better performance than gas stove tops. Converting low-efficiency fossil fuel heating systems to high-efficiency electric heat pumps is a smart upgrade, too. Regardless of your fuel source, energy efficiency continues to be the cheapest, quickest and cleanest way to meet our energy needs and reduce utility bills.
This may seem obvious, but electronics play a huge role in every family’s home energy usage. Everyone should realize unplugging electronics or using power strips to disconnect multiple items at once is environmentally friendly. Also consider using more energy efficient lightbulbs, using cold water to do the laundry, installing ceiling fans and insulating windows and doors. These ideas are easy to do, cheap and you will immediately see a reduction in your energy usage and lower energy bills.
My administration created a comprehensive Climate Action Plan to follow and the Climate Change Officer position to lead the implementation. On my weekly media briefing, I was proud to introduce Sarah Kogel-Smucker as our Climate Change Officer. Sarah has great experience for this work, and she also has a passion for it. She has already held similar positions in New York City and Washington D.C., and I am excited about the changes she can make to help our community.
The bottom line here is that addressing climate change is not something we as a government can do on our own, but we as a community can do together.
Holding Social Media Companies Accountable
Maryland Attorney General Anthony Brown announced this week that Maryland joined other states in suing social media platforms for their impact on the health and welfare of our homes and communities. Montgomery County filed a similar lawsuit against the giant tech companies in June. You can review that lawsuit by clicking here.
I am pleased that the Attorney General and State of Maryland are joining us in this fight. These social media companies were clearly deliberate and negligent in targeting and harming their consumers—especially children. We are still in the early stages of understanding the full impact on the health and welfare of heavy users of their products. It is clear that they must be held accountable for their actions.
Here are some concerning statistics:
- 97 percent of teenagers ages 13-17 have at least one social media account.
- People ages 16-24 spend an average of three hours on social media daily.
- Almost 25 percent of teens view social media as having a negative effect.
I want to thank Montgomery’s Office of the County Attorney for being proactive in pursuing this case. Like the cases holding the pharmaceutical companies responsible for the destruction caused by opioids, we want social media companies held accountable.
In COVID-19 news this week, local case rates saw a slight uptick over last week. Hospitalizations across Maryland also increased 25 percent over last week, with 26 COVID patients in the ICU and 247 in acute care beds. In Montgomery County, we saw a 40 percent increase in hospitalized COVID-19 patients, 15 more than last week.
It is the first time since we started riding the down wave of COVID-19 that we have seen our case rates and hospitalizations bounce back. Our health experts are keeping an eye on RSV and flu cases to see if they impact our hospitals. Early last fall, our medical community saw a quick rise in RSV and flu cases, straining our emergency rooms. That put our medical facilities in a tough position even before we began to see a winter wave of COVID-19 cases last December and January.
That is one reason I join others in encouraging you to get a flu shot, COVID-19 booster and RSV vaccine if that is recommended for you. Our hospitals are not built to handle large swaths of people needing a bed. I hope you realize that boosters and vaccines help prevent you from getting gravely ill, but do not necessarily block you from getting sick all together. Visit vaccine.gov to find the nearest pharmacy or family health provider to get your shots.
Button Farm in Germantown from 1-3 p.m. on Saturday, Oct. 28, will be celebrating its annual Maryland Emancipation Day Event. It took until 1864 for Maryland lawmakers to abolish slavery in the state. That came about six months before the end of the Civil War. The free event will feature speakers, self-guided tours of the farm and more. The event is put on by the Montgomery County Commission on Remembrance and Reconciliation. Visit buttonfarm.org for more information.
For those looking to fill their Halloween weekend with more fun, catch the Halloween Eye Spy Train before it is gone. The train is perfect for all ages and can be found at Cabin John Park from 10 a.m.-6 p.m. on Saturday and Sunday. You can book tickets here.
In Wheaton, a weekend full of fun is in store for kids and adults. The Wheaton Arts & Entertainment District will be hosting a bar hop on Saturday that begins at 2 p.m. for anyone 21 and up. You must preregister and join the festive crowd at the Marian Fryer Town Plaza to participate. HalloWheaton will happen from noon-4 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 29. Families can expect free s'mores roasting, pumpkin painting, costume contests, Halloween crafts, face-painting and photo opportunities.
As always, my appreciation for all of you,