Per Montgomery County:
There is a lot to update you on this week as we transition from summer to fall. First of all, this Sunday marks the beginning of Rosh Hashanah, a two-day celebration of the Jewish New Year. It’s the first of several Jewish holidays this fall. We hope that our Jewish community is able to celebrate safely with loved ones. May the new year be filled with great health, happiness, joy, and prosperity.
Shanah Tovah to all who are celebrating.
This week I attended the grand opening of the newly renovated Henry Jackson Foundation (HJF) conference facility in Bethesda. This organization does not get a lot of media attention, but it is critical to America’s future. It is a collaboration between the public and private sector focused on using military experience to enhance medical research.
The renovations made to the labs and conference center will help expand the HJF’s ability to do further good for the world by allowing more collaboration both in person and virtually on projects meant for public use, the private sector and academia.
I welcome you to have a look at some of the pictures we were allowed to take inside the new facility. We anticipate this being a great opportunity to fully realize the potential of our goal of working with WMATA and the University of Maryland system to bring a graduate level program to the North Bethesda area focused on artificial intelligence, life sciences and medical research. Having nearby partners like the Henry Jackson Foundation, Walter Reed, the FDA and the National Institutes of Health only strengthens our resolve to continue producing the talent that will fill these jobs in the years to come.
I’m also excited to welcome Marriott Internationalto its new home in downtown Bethesda. On Monday, the company officially moved into the brand-new $600 million facility along Wisconsin Avenue.
Montgomery County is proud to be the home to Marriott and we are very grateful that they kept their headquarters, employees, and presence in our county and state.
It was also good news to hear how well Marriott has recovered following the hardships they faced during the pandemic. Their occupancy rates are now approaching pre-pandemic levels.
During my conversations with the Marriott family and corporate leaders they provided positive feedback about some of the new measures we’ve taken to make a massive project like this a little easier to complete than it was before. I’m proud of our efforts as a county to cut out some of the red tape that stood in the way of progress.
Every week, we receive more good news about companies – large and small – opening, expanding, or relocating to Montgomery County. I encourage everyone to please follow information from our Montgomery County Economic Development Corporation at thinkmoco.com, follow their social media and sign up for their newsletters.
Our economic success is critical to providing the revenues and funds that our County is going to need for our infrastructure, health and human services, public safety, environmental, and education system needs.
The passage of Zoning Text Amendment 22-05 by the County Council is a significant legislative step as we continue implementing Montgomery County’s Speed to Market initiative recommendations to improve our processes for businesses.
It’s the first significant update of the sign section of the Zoning Code to reflect changes requested by me and the Department of Permitting Services and will create more flexibility for menu board signs associated with drive-through and service windows and increasing the frequency allowed for messages to change on digital signs. These zoning changes are expected to save 45 to 60 days compared to our current guidelines.
These zoning changes are the first of the recommendations made by our Economic Advisory Group (EAG) to be passed by the Council.
At the beginning of my administration, Council President, at the time, Sidney Katz and I conducted a listening tour with County businesses. The feedback we heard from businesses led us to convening an EAG. Our goal was to try to bring together a diverse group of leaders to provide us assistance in better serving our business community. Their input was critical as we had to pivot quickly to develop economic recovery plans from the COVID-19 health crisis.
The EAG’s “Economic Roadmap to Recovery & Long-Term Success” focuses on several things including how to support growing industries. We’ve made great progress since these recommendations were published in late 2020. We are currently securing life sciences companies in Montgomery County with more than 3 million square feet of lab space in development right now as businesses announce relocation and expansion plans.
A recent industry report ranked our area as number 2 in the nation for our pool of life sciences talent. We want to expand on those efforts to help attract new life sciences businesses to Montgomery County. Last summer we signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) with the Universities at Shady Grove, Montgomery College & the University Systems of Maryland to provide students with career and educational experiences in our life science and hospitality industries.
Additionally, we continue to work with the University of Maryland to bring a post graduate artificial intelligence, or “AI,” campus to the North Bethesda Metro station area. Merging AI technology and innovations with our life science companies will change the way research can be done and advance the speed of discovery and implementation of new treatments, like COVID vaccines, that will improve our health and our lives.
Another goal is to help businesses recover from the pandemic. Specifically, we are focused on access and availability of capital, especially so small businesses can stay afloat during hard economic times. We helped distribute state and federal funds and earlier in the pandemic it was County money helping people and businesses. Additionally, we’re using our position to help small businesses identify grants and work with financial institutions to leverage favorable terms for our local businesses. Support has also been given to key quality of life industries like restaurants, entertainment and hospitality.
We’ve also seen growth in our hospitality industry with more restaurants coming on board than the number we lost because of the pandemic. Our liquor permitting records show that there’s been a resurgence in eateries and hotel occupancy is now rebounding.
Businesses like these will undoubtably benefit from our Speed to Market initiatives, which are led by business professionals in our community. The Chair of our EAG, Doug Firstenberg, joined me for my weekly media briefing on Wednesday and talked about how great it is to see the follow through on some of the great ideas they developed. Doug is a Founding Principal of Stonebridge Real Estate Development and Investment as well as a Bethesda resident. I highly recommend that you listen to his comments by clicking here.
Doug noted that while the sign ordinance changes may seem to be a small tweak, they signify a key foundational change in the way the County is willing to be more business-friendly moving forward, recognizing the need to scrap parts of a 30-year-old law to adapt to the changing needs of businesses today.
These are efforts we must do to make sure we don’t stumble over our own feet. We are focused on increasing our higher education opportunities here in Montgomery County, expanding our tax base and finding new ways to ensure our quality of life continues to improve. I look forward toward more positive outcomes from our Speed to Market Initiative.
Montgomery County has unveiled a new website to educate and inform the public about flooding issues that may affect residents and businesses throughout the County. The website provides information about frequently flooded roads, steps residents can take to prepare for potential flooding and the availability of flood insurance to all properties in the County. On this site residents can fill out a survey that will help develop our Flood and Management Plan.
Over the summer we installed our first flood water sensors to help stormwater experts monitor rising water levels on flood-prone days. Now we’re hoping to add protective measures using results from a large-scale survey we’re conducting to get your perspective on flood-prone areas we don’t see in the data.
Flooding is the most frequent severe weather event and the costliest natural disaster that impacts most families. Just one inch of floodwater can cause up to $25,000 in damage. Flash floods have also taken lives in the past and we want to do everything we can to make sure that doesn’t happen again.
Montgomery County is committed to addressing adverse flood impacts to residents and businesses in the County.
Please visit our flooding information page or attend the next in-person flood management plan presentation being held this Saturday September 24 at the Germantown Flea Market or on Saturday, October 1 at 12 p.m. at Lotte Plaza Market in Germantown. Two virtual forums will be held Wednesday and Thursday October 12 & 20, respectively.
This week in a nationally broadcast interview on 60 Minutes President Joe Biden drew a lot of attention by saying that the pandemic is over. However, he also noted that “We still have a problem with COVID.” I would say COVID-19 no longer has us in crisis mode but there is more work to do.
COVID is still more deadly than the flu – especially for those who aren’t vaccinated. We need to continue to work to protect our families and communities.
Our COVID case rates are down but our hospitalization and mortality rates from the virus continue to be a concern. Those who stopped at just the first two doses of the vaccine are 2 and a half times more likely to be hospitalized by COVID than people who are up to date on their vaccinations and boosters.
The news is even worse for the unvaccinated. Their rate of an illness serious enough to cause a hospitalization is 10 and a half times higher than those who are boosted as recommended.
Just this week we saw the percentage of fully vaccinated Montgomery County residents hit 90 percent. We are the first large jurisdiction in the United States to accomplish this feat and according to this New York Times graphic, we are the least vulnerable jurisdiction in the United States to COVID. These are accomplishments that we should be very proud of.
However, being “fully vaccinated” only means receiving your first two shots of Pfizer or Moderna, or one shot of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine. You really need to get your booster, and the new bivalent booster is designed to deal with both the original form of the virus, as well as the omicron variant.
Although we are outperforming virtually all other jurisdictions in the country in our booster rates, only 58 percent of county residents have received their additional booster shot so far. And that is just not good enough. Additionally, we continue to see our booster rates among younger populations significantly lag.
I got my bivalent booster this past weekend at a local Giant pharmacy– there are appointments available all around the county at pharmacies and health care providers –we need everyone eligible to take this new shot.
We want to make sure everyone continues to take COVID seriously but especially those who are the most vulnerable to falling severely ill. If you’re more than 50 years old, immunocompromised or in poor health booster shots can help protect you from the worst of this virus. It’s true that variants can cause breakthrough infections, but vaccines still prevent serious illness and death, and even more so with boosters. So, Max Your Vax. You can find our clinic schedule at www.GoVaxMoco.com
Honoring Hispanic Businesses: Maspanadas in Rockville
As part of our celebration of Hispanic Heritage Month, I am visiting Latino-owned companies and business. Last week, I visited Maspanadas in Rockville. This business makes, bakes, and freezes empanadas to sell in grocery stores across the East Coast.
Maspanadas started in owner Margarita Womack’s kitchen in 2017 and has now grown to over 60 employees with more plans for expansion. Ms. Womack, who was originally from Colombia, has been able to get her products in the freezer sections at Whole Foods, Giant, Safeway and elsewhere
Additionally, we began recognizing our Hispanic and Latino employees on our social media channels. I am proud of how diverse our government employees are and the backgrounds they bring to their jobs. This government will continue to strive to reflect the diversity of our communities.
I want to thank all our Hispanic and Latino employees for their service to this County government and our communities and wish them all a Happy Hispanic Heritage Month. We’ll have more updates from my tour of Hispanic-owned businesses as the month continues.
There are a lot of great things happening in Burtonsville. Over the summer, we dedicated a new sign for Burtonsville and announced the re-development of Burtonsville Crossing with the addition of Sprouts – a brand new grocery store for the area.
This weekend is the Burtonsville Day Celebration on Saturday. It starts at 10 a.m. with a parade from Paint Branch High School to Praisner Community Center. Following the parade, I’ll be on hand to present trophies to this year’s winners and enjoy the festival at the Marilyn J. Praisner Community Center.
I hope you’re able to make it out for food, games and live music. Please follow this link to learn more about the schedule for the day.
On Saturday, PANAFEST will be held at Veterans Plaza in Silver Spring. PANAFEST gives our community a chance to celebrate the rich diversity of Africa during African Heritage Month. This year’s theme focuses on unity and bringing together people with African ancestry from all over the world. This will be the 11th annual gathering in Montgomery County with African cuisine, fashion and music on display from noon until 9 p.m.
PANAFEST is one of the largest festivals in our region recognizing the communities of the African diaspora. Please attend and enjoy the wonderful entertainment, great food and shopping options. It will be quite a festive atmosphere in Silver Spring.