Sunday, October 31, 2010

A Dam Loss

It has been over a year since the Simkins dam removal was announced and now the work has finally commenced. According to this story by Jennifer Broadwater in The Howard County Times, the project “has begun and workers are expected to begin tearing down the concrete dam Nov. 10, according to Serena McClain, director of American Rivers’ River Restoration Program.”

Earlier this year another old dam on the river was removed.

“The work, funded by $4 million in federal stimulus funds, began last year with the removal of the Union Dam, which was finished in September. Studies are under way for the removal of a third dam in the area, Bloede Dam, according to American Rivers.”

Bloede Dam is a taller order than the Union and Simkins dams, it’s much bigger.

Still, with Simkins Dam out of the way, kayakers and other river enthusiasts will be able to traverse the entire length of the river along HoCo’s northern border without having to maneuver around a dam.

The fish will be happier too.

“The dams lost their purpose years ago and instead became obstacles to the migration and spawning habits of fish and eel. They also harm water quality, environmentalists say.”


Rallying the Troops

At the end of the HoCo Chamber political forum earlier this month, Courtney Watson enlisted me to work a poll on election day for her. I had hoped she’d forgotten but I should know better. Courtney doesn’t forget things like that.

Yesterday, a bag showed up on my doorstep with my poll working marching orders and supplies. The number one instruction was “Wear your Watson T-Shirt.” My time slot is 7:30 AM to 9:00 AM at Worthington Elementary School. Right now the forecast calls for a high of 53 degrees on Tuesday which means that at 7:30 AM it likely to be in the upper 30’s. No way I’m wearing a t-shirt.

The package also included a bottle of water. At 7:30 AM the only beverage I’ll be drinking is a nice warm cup of coffee. In fact, I’ll likely grab a box of Box of Joe from my neighborhood Dunkin Donuts, before reporting for duty. I'll share the warm beverage with the other early morning poll workers, regardless of party affiliation. Anyone who is willing to come out that early on cold fall morning to support the democratic process deserves a hot cup of coffee as far as I’m concerned.

You can tell I’m not real good at this partisan politics stuff.

Not So Non Partisan

The school board is supposed to be non partisan but that never stopped the HoCo loco party politicos getting involved. This summer, at the HoCo County Fair, I was handed a flyer from the Columbia Democratic Club that endorsed school board candidate Larry Walker. Yesterday, in The Sun, the HoCo Republican Party ran a full page ad with their endorsements for Tuesday’s election. The ad included endorsements for school board candidates Bob Ballinger and Brian Meskin.

On the one hand, I applaud any effort that attempts to inform voters on the school board race. The school system commands over 60% of the county budget and is one of the largest employers in HoCo. When people don’t pay attention a guy like Allen Dyer gets elected.

On the other hand, the school system should transcend partisan politics. We should be choosing candidates solely  for their willingness and ability to deliver the best product for our students in the most cost effective manner. It concerns me that the school board is often seen by HoCo politico partisans as the farm team for higher elected office.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Good Forecast for Dems

This morning, as I was running errands in Columbia and listening to Wait Wait Don’t Tell Me on WAMU, I heard that rain on election day hurts the Dems more than Repubs.

When I got home I did a little research on the web and came across this story by Bill Adair on Bill cites a study that “found that 1 inch of rain reduces overall turnout by slightly less than 1 percent and cuts the Democratic vote by 2.5 percentage points.”

“Rain does have a significant effect decreasing the Democratic vote share,” said Brad Gomez, a visiting professor of political science at the University of Georgia who co-authored the study. “That’s a fairly sizeable swing.”

Local Dems can breathe a sigh of relief. The current forecast for Tuesday calls for a sunny day with temps in the fifties. Then again, this is Maryland where weather prognostication is often a fools game.

Friday, October 29, 2010

HoCo By the Numbers

Attendees at yesterdays CoRE Tour received a three ringer binder loaded up with everything you need to know about HoCo commercial real estate. Published every eighteen months, it is often simply referred to as “the book” as in “I didn’t go on the bus tour but I did grab the book.”

It’s a pretty good book.

In the back of the book, there is a wealth of data that provides a snapshot the HoCo economy. For instance, there is 69,996,024 million square feet of commercial space in the county. The overall vacancy rate for that space is 11.6% with the highest vacancy being in industrial space (14.9%) and the lowest being in retail space (4.4%).

More people commute out of HoCo everyday (98,359) than commute in (86,276). 57,304 people are fortunate enough to live and work in the county.

In 1990 there were 80,866 jobs in HoCo paying an average weekly wage of $497.00. Last year there were 143,580 jobs paying an average weekly wage of $1,049.00. 125,744 of those jobs were in the private sector while 17,836 were in the government sector.

While HoCo enjoys one of the lowest unemployment rates in the country (5.2%) we were not immune to recent economic recession. In 2009 HoCo lost 4,738 jobs, the first net job loss in ten years.  

Good for the Linkor, Good for the Linkee

If you want to build an audience for a blog, having other sites link to you is a sure fire way to accomplish that. When The Sun recently started providing links to local blogs, they quickly became the fourth largest referring site for Tales of Two Cities, behind Google, HoCo Rising, and hocoblogs (in that order).

That is significant. The Sun now sends almost three times as many visitors to this blog than HowChow. It wasn’t that long ago that HowChow was my top referring site behind Google. It is now number six.

The interesting thing about links is that they are mutually beneficial. Eight of the blogs that I provide links to are in the top twenty sites that refer visits here. 

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Lettering in Cyber

The keynote speaker at today’s CoRE Tour was Larry Cox, Senior Vice President of SAIC and co chair of the newly formed HoCo Cyber Commission. Larry asserts that the United States is “trading nation” and therefore insuring confidence in the integrity of our systems that facilitate trade is a national priority.

In other words cyber security is a big deal.

He talked about the importance of gaming in training cyber warriors and pointed to initiatives like the National Collegiate Cyber Defense Competition as an example. He'd like to see this type of thing at the secondary school level too. He suggests that a high school letter in cyber gaming would probably be a good idea.

I like that idea too.

Breakfast with the Boys

The commercial real estate business is still largely a male dominated business. Whenever there is a large industry gathering such as this mornings CoRE kick off breakfast I am struck both by how much things have changed and how much they still remain the same.

Of course being one of the boys I rather enjoy the male camaraderie. Yet even as I exchanged hearty greetings with my many manly colleagues I noticed that this old boys club doesn’t look so much like an old boys club anymore. The gender scale has noticeably shifted.

The pioneers of this shift were women like Kim Penny. I recall a conversation at least fifteen years ago when Kim was trying to decide if making the leap into commercial brokerage was a good move for her. Today she is a Vice President at CBRE, one of the largest commercial real estate brokerages in the world.

There were other women pioneers too like Laura WesterveltAbby Glassberg and Sharon Caplan, to name a few. It’s not just happening on the brokerage side of the business either. The Senior Vice President of Asset Management and Leasing for Corporate Office Properties Trust was there this morning as well. Cathy Ward has been in the business as long if not longer than me. It was really a boys club when these gals came along but they toughed it out and cleared a bit of a path for those coming behind them.

That point was driven home when I introduced Kate Nolan today. Kate is a member the next generation of women in the club and the project director for our building, the main point of contact with the general contractor. Like the others before her, she is now cutting a path through the construction side of the business, the last great bastion of male dominance in commercial real estate.

Breakfast with the boys will never be the same.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Last Call

Janice Posey has had a very busy week. Janice is the Senior Vice President of the HoCo Economic Development Authority. When Jack Gunther left the EDA last month to go to work for GGP, the job of putting on this years CoRE Tour suddenly fell on her lap. She has quite admirably risen to the occasion. I got to spend some quality time with Janice this evening as she put on the final touches for tomorrow’s event.

Earlier in the day, when the caterers arrived, the elevator inspector had not finished his inspection and so they had to carry the tables up the stairs. About the time they were finished we received our elevator certificate. When Janice arrived around four all systems were operational. She told me they had confirmed reservations for 150. I helped her move around a few tables and a few other odd chores.

We all left the building around seven while some of the tradesmen were still tending to last minute details.

It’s been a hectic day. We’re tired but we’re ready.

When I got home, after checking Peanuts homework, getting her all squared away for school tomorrow and folding the laundry, I noticed that there was a message on our answering machine. It was a robo call from Trent Kittleman.

“This is Trent Kittelman, candidate for County Executive, I’m asking for just forty two seconds of your time...”

Sorry Trent. Not tonight.

What’s In a Name?

A commenter on this post named Ambermccann  noted that I identified our office project as being in Emerson instead of Laurel and wrote that she would “love your thoughts on the building being advertised as being located in Emerson, Maryland...which doesn't exist.”

I am more than happy to oblige.

The main reason for identifying the location as Emerson is that it is in fact in the planned community of Emerson and is subject to the HOA dues and covenants of that community. It is akin to the Village of River Hill which is in Clarksville but is identified as being in Columbia or Maple Lawn which is located in Fulton.

Also, Laurel is an incorporated town in Prince Georges County. Emerson is in HoCo. I will sometimes make the distinction by saying that Emerson is located in North Laurel.

She also wrote that "I have fellow parents at Gorman Crossing who tell people that they live in Columbia, despite Laurel addresses because it is "gross" to live in Laurel. It really makes me sad. Thoughts?"

I don’t think Laurel has anything to be ashamed of. If anything it is a community of growing importance in the Baltimore / Washington corridor. Three years ago, at another HoCo CoRE Tour,  the regional economist Anirban Basu identified Laurel as “an increasingly attractive market for homeowners and businesses in the coming years.”

In fact, when pointing out nearby amenities for our building I always include Laurel, where just today I enjoyed a nice lunch at Red Hot & Blue.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Marking Time

Late this afternoon, when I pulled up to our office project in Emerson, the first thing I did after getting out of my car was check the clock.

It was spot on, a good omen I decided.

In roughly 33 hours the building will play host to the Kick-Off Breakfast of the 2010 HoCo EDA CoRE Tour. Thursday morning brokers, bankers, architects, developers and an assortment of other interested parties from throughout the region will arrive for a breakfast meeting before departing on buses for a commercial real estate tour of Howard County. This will be the first time the building will be shown to the public. We’re almost ready.

Of course I wish I could say we are ready. As recently as the end of August the 160,000 square foot building was scheduled to be completed on September 30th. When the opportunity arose to host a breakfast on October 29th I thought we’d be fine.

That’s the funny thing about construction schedules. They are often subject to things outside of your control like when a particular subcontractor fails to adhere to an agreed upon schedule. Sure, you could always replace the recalcitrant tradesman but that would only create further delay.

So with the caterer set to arrive on site tomorrow afternoon to begin setting up, today we filled the fountain, laid carpet and installed bathroom fixtures (wrong color but we’ll deal with that later). Outside the final corner of the 580 space parking lot was paved. It will be striped tomorrow if it doesn’t rain.

The elevator inspectors have been by twice. They’ll be back tomorrow. Our contingency plan is to hold the breakfast on the first floor.

Last Wednesday, when the clock above the main entrance was installed, it was off by at least an hour. On Friday it was still off by 45 minutes.

Today it was spot on. We’ve come a long way in 26 months. We’re going to be fine.

Nice Digs

A little over a year ago, ADG Creative was out in the market looking for new space because they had outgrown their existing facility. At the time the company was located on Eli Whitney Drive in Columbia Gateway. After looking all around HoCo they opted to stay in the same neighborhood but in a different building. Tomorrow at noon they will host a ribbon cutting at 7151 Columbia Gateway Drive to show off their new digs.

According to this story by Gus G. Sentementes in The Sun, the marketing and communications firm “has been on a growth spurt the last several years, doubling its staff and reporting annual revenue gains of 15 to 20 percent. It was ready to move to a bigger home.”

While some of their growth can be attributed to government contracting, they have also expanded their commercial business.

“About half of ADG’s business comes from government clients, and the rest from commercial – a diversification that’s helped during the recession, Antkowiak said. The company has 50 clients on both the government and commercial sides.”

If you’d like to get an idea what a $3.5 million construction budget buys you just visit the company’s website for an armchair tour.

Monday, October 25, 2010

Internal Dissent

The Repubs in HoCo are having what amounts to a family squabble as we enter the final week before the elections. At a time when the party should be coming together to support their candidates a widening rift is developing in the loco GOP ranks that has more to do with the next election than the current one. The formation of Republicans for Watson has so angered Senator Alan Kittleman that it has created a good bit of tension within the moderate ranks of the party.

It is widely expected that Alan will make a run at the county executive seat in four years when Ken Ulman is prohibited by term limits from seeking a third term. The absence of an incumbent in the race levels the playing field a bit for a Repub. The thinking is that, right now anyway, Courtney Watson presents the greatest Dem threat in four years so it would be best to knock her out in the council race this year thereby diminishing her political capital in 2014. The last thing he needs is moderate Repubs getting all friendly with Courtney. Of course it’s too late for that now.

This tiff comes on top of the Tea Partiers efforts to pull the loco GOP further to the right. The failed Taxpayer Protection Initiative was but one example of an effort to advance a more loco conservative agenda. Many moderate Repubs feel that Tea Party politics don’t resonate in HoCo beyond the party’s hardcore conservatives. The moderates believe that in order to win in heavily Dem HoCo, the party needs not only to capture the independent vote but a fair share of moderate Dems as well. In conversations with both moderate and conservative Repubs I’ve often walked away wondering if they are actually in the same party.

Will Rogers once quipped “I’m not a member of an organized political party, I’m Democrat”

This year, in HoCo at least, that could be said about the Repubs too.

District 13 House of Delegates Endorsements

When I started making HoCo politico endorsements back in May I thought I’d have plenty of time to cover all the loco races. Where did the time go?

With early voting already underway and only eight days remaining before the actual Election Day, I have yet to weigh in on the State Senate races and the District 13 House of Delegates race. Given the constraints of time I've decided to take a pass on the Senate races and instead make my final picks for the D13 Delegates.

Not that it really matters anyway. I sincerely hope that all voters will make their own informed choices, whether they agree with me or not. The whole idea here is simply to get more people to pay attention and perhaps go a little deeper than party affiliation when making their decisions.

In the District 13 House of Delegates contest I like two Repubs and a Dem in this district in the south eastern portion of the county. The Dems hold roughly a two to one advantage in registered voters and consequently the elected Dems don’t have to work very hard to get reelected. In other words, they can pretty much do whatever they want like banging on their desks. That’s why it would be good for the welfare of the state to mix it up a little.

Ed Priola has worked harder than any candidate I know this election season, knocking on doors and getting out and talking to as many District 13 residents as is physically possible. I particularly like that he has pledged to only serve two terms if elected. Compare this to the 16 years in office of incumbents Shane Pendergrass and Frank Turner.

I also like Jeff Robinson. Jeff is a technology executive in Columbia and I am a big fan of having more business people in the General Assembly. He also supports direct shipping of wine for Maryland residents, which is something our Dem dominated state legislature has failed to deliver despite overwhelming popular support.

My Dem pick is Guy Guzzone. While I may not always agree with his politics I find him to be reasonable and generally willing to listen to an opposing view. In just one term in the House he has quickly established himself as an able legislator.

Guy Guzzone, Jeff Robinson and Ed Priola for District 13 House of Delegates.  

As for all the other races, you’re on your own. Please choose wisely.

Sunday, October 24, 2010

And Speaking of Bicycles…

The New York Times has an article on belt driven bicycles in the paper today. This is a welcome development from someone who almost always gets chain grease on his leg.

Thirty-five Minutes Away

I did my best to pretend not to care that I was missing the Ravens game today. I told Mama Wordbones that it wasn’t really a big game. I told her we were expected to win…easily.

I should know better by now than to say something like that. The games you dismiss as easy wins are usually the games that trip you up and of course that is almost exactly what happened.

It was really too nice of day to sit inside and watch television and going to a Ravens game was not on Mama Wordbones birthday weekend activities list. Biking in Frederick was so we loaded up the bikes, grabbed a couple of cups of coffee for the ride, and headed out west.

I should note here that Frederick is a very bike friendly town. We parked the car on and unloaded our bikes on Church Street, taking advantage of the free street parking on Sunday. From there we navigated our way down to Carroll Creek Park. We rode along the canal up through Mullinix Park to Baker Park where the bike path dead ends at the Catoctin Mountain Highway (US 15). 

On the return trip we exited the parks and meandered through the streets in the historic district, working our way back to the canal. We enjoyed lunch at an outdoor café where I was finally able to check in on the Ravens game with my NFL Mobile app.

It was hard at this point to pretend that I didn’t care. The game was destined for overtime.

That being said I still have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed our day trip to Frederick. The historic town is full of neat places to eat and drink and plenty of places to explore and discover on a bicycle.

And it is only thirty-five minutes away…just enough time to finish our coffee.

Bonus points to any reader who can identify the antique cars in the picture.

BARCStober Fest and Walter @ The Walters

This was Mama Wordbones birthday weekend. Though her actual birthday isn’t until tomorrow we had a rare free weekend with just the two of us. She assembled some ideas for things she’d like to do depending on the weather and the weather gods smiled gently upon her.
Our first stop Saturday morning was the BARCStober Fest at Patterson Park in Baltimore. We saw a lot of dogs in wild get ups, including this “police dog”. They had contests for Biggest Dog, Smallest Dog, Best Kisser, Best Tail Wagger and even a Wet T-Shirt contest. If you are not a dog person you probably wouldn’t understand.
From there we shot across town to The Walters Art Museum to catch the Walter Wick exhibit, Games, Gizmos, and Toys in the Attic. If you’ve ever enjoyed an I Spy book or have an appreciation for photography, you’d love this exhibit. We spent about an hour and a half sampling the wild world of Walter Wicked. It runs until January 2nd.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Broadband and Ballinger

Even after spending twenty minutes talking to the guy behind HoCo’s latest broadband initiative, I am still having difficulty grasping the full implication of this new federal grant. Ira Levy, the HoCo Director of Technology and Communications Serviceswas our guest on “and then there’s that…” yesterday. On the one hand it was nice to take a partial break from the loco politico stuff that has dominated our recent shows yet I found the topic a little hard to wrap my arms around. Perhaps it is because the possibilities of linking primary schools, community colleges, libraries, government and healthcare institutions in ten Maryland jurisdictions together in a broadband network are limited only to the imagination.

I will say that at least I know more now than I did before the show.

It was only a partial break from loco politico stuff because school board candidate Bob Ballinger had joined us for the two minute segment (which usually exceeds two minutes but we’re working on that). At the HoCo Blogtail party the night before I learned that Bob was involved in a sign war battle where he was accused of improperly removing David Proudfoots signs. The police were called but in the end no charges were pressed. Bob defended his actions by saying that he was only removing signs that didn’t have the property owners permission to be there. He said he had been followed around recently by someone in an "Obama car," whatever that is, who was recording his every move and they were the one who eventually called the police. I’m not sure who is right in this little dust up but it is indicative of the heightened emotions as we head into the final weeks of the silly season.

You can listen the 26th epipisode of “and then there’s that…” here.

Friday, October 22, 2010

Green Light for Green Development

Don Reuwer has secured financing to move HoCo’s first “Green Neighborhood” forward. Back in March he received preliminary sketch plan approval for the development from HoCo. According to the most recent issue of the Howard/Arundel Report, Reuwers firm, Land Design & Development has now secured an $8.6 million loan from Eagle Bank to begin work on the development near the intersection of Beechwood and Ilchester Roads in Elkridge.

The project known as Locust Chapel will include 64 single homes on 36.5 acres. Ryan Homes, the builder for the development, is developing a green house for the new community.

Site work is expected to begin within the next 60 days.

HoCo 27th in Sex

In this month's issue of Men’s Health magazine, the editors ranked 100 American cities for levels of sexual activity. Using data derived from condom sales, birth rates, sex toy sales, and cases of chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis, to determine “national nookie rates’ they ranked Baltimore at number 28 and Washington, DC as number 26. That would put HoCo right about 27.

The top ranked city was Austin, Texas while Portland, Maine came in dead last. I knew Portland was cold but I didn’t know it was that cold!


The only problem with a local gathering of bloggers is that all the attendees will eventualy want to blog about it and last night’s blogtail party was no exception. This morning you can read posts from HoCo Rising, 53 Beers on Tap, and Frank Hecker, as well as a Twitter thingy from JessieX about the evening at Kloby’s Smokehouse.

I can’t resist the urge to comment either. This is actually the first blogtail party I’ve attended in awhile. In fact, until the last minute I didn’t think I’d be able to make this one. I’m glad I did. These gatherings have come a long way since the inaugural one at Clyde’s four years ago. Four years ago the gathering was small, maybe six or seven people. Last night there were about 30 people that not only included bloggers but also blog readers, media folk and politicians. Even Mama Wordbones came, her first ever attendance at a blog event!

I can’t begin to name all the people who attended because I never got to work my way all through the crowd. That’s okay, that’s what happens at a fun gathering, you go home wishing you had gotten to talk to more people.

I did get to speak at length with Jeff Robinson, one of the Repub candidates for the House of Delegates in District 13. We had a good laugh about the Howard County Times split decision between him and Shane Pendergrass on whom to endorse. Talk about opposite ends of the political spectrum! I’d have loved to be a fly on the wall during that discussion. 

Dennis Schrader, the Repub candidate for the District 3 County Council seat, also dropped by to mingle with the bloggers, offering further evidence of the growing influence of blogs.

Rock star blogger David Hobby was in attendance as well, sporting an official Blogger hoodie (I want one!). I think this may have been the first bogtail party that he has attended too. David was the first person to really open my eyes about blogs.

Trevor, an occasional guest commenter on HoCo Rising, used the occasion to announce that he has started his very own blog, HoCo Politico

Though this gathering was co-hosted by HowChow and HoCo Rising, the real credit for these blogging events goes to Jessie. She has continued to nurture this blogtail concept from that small group four years ago to the wildly successful event last night.

Nicely done. 

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Direct Mauling

Over the last three days we received ten pieces of campaign mail from six candidates. The most frequent mailer has been Bob Ehrlich with three mailers followed by Courtney Watson and Jon Weinstein, each with two. The others were from Gail Bates and Warren Miller, Maryann Maher and Martin O’Malley.

For the most part the trip from the mailbox to the recycle bin is a very short one. In fact, that’s where I had to retrieve these pieces in order to write this post.

So what are the messages that the candidates are sending to us through the mail?

Bob Ehrlich wants us to know that Martin O’Malley broke the budget, wasn’t honest and that he’ll will get Maryland back to work.

Courtney Watson wants us to know that she is supported by both Repubs and Dems and that she will keep our schools “No. 1” without raising taxes.

Jon Weinstein tells us about his lifetime of public service and that he’s all about responsive and responsible government.

Gail Bates and Warren Miller (are they actually joined at the hip?) want to know if we are concerned about jobs and the economy.

Maryann Maher wants us to know that she would make our government accountable.

Martin O’Malley simply wants us to know that Bob Ehrlich is evil.

One thing is certain. This is a good year for the printers and the direct mail houses

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Curb Job

When I arrived home this afternoon the following notice was taped to my mailbox:

First of all, twenty bucks is a little steep for spray painting a number on a curb. Second, my street number is highly visible both on my house and on the post of the very mailbox where this notice was planted. Third, I called the number “You have reached Sprint mailbox 410-588-9269.”

That’s it. No message. No nothing.


By whom?


See item number three.

How many ways can I write scam….

Screening Restaurants

In recent years the trend in restaurant design has been towards an openness to the elements. This does not just mean more outdoor seating it means opening up the entire restaurant, European style, to the street with glass walls that can be folded back when the weather permits.

In Maryland, if you do this you better include a screen when you open up those walls. According to this story by Elahe Izadi in TBD, “restaurants and officials have only recently become aware of a regulation against open windows in restaurants, one that has long been a part of Maryland law. The rule is designed to prevent vermin infestation.”

The biggest impact of this newly enforced regulation is being felt in MoCo, particularly along Woodmont Avenue. In  HoCo the newly opened Stanford Grill is the only restaurant that I’m aware that will have to adjust to this rediscovered Maryland law.

And they will have to adjust. The potential penalty for non compliance “could technically cost a restaurant $1,000 or 90 days in jail.”  

The Mobbies Are Back

A little over a month ago I lamented that The Sun appeared to be backing off their embrace of blogs. Since then, the Baltimore media giant has introduced a blog feed on the HoCo section of the online paper and today they announced the 2010 Mobbies.

It looks like I spoke too soon.

Still, the blog feeds in the HoCo section are missing some of the more widely read blogs like HoCo Rising and Sarah Says. I have heard that there is some internal dissent about how cozy the media giant should get with the likes of us. It is also possible that the rekindled interest in local blogs could be a reaction to the recent emergence of Patch sites.

In any event, as of today the 2010 Mobbies are now underway with a call for nominations and already HowChow has been nominated for Best Food Blog.

Running Out of Road

“If I only had eleven more months…”

That’s what Bob Wheatley said to me last night at Clyde’s. I had just finished telling him that I had heard he did well at the HoCo Chamber State Candidates forum that morning. We were both attending a “Business Roundtable” event for Ed Priola. Besides HoCo Risings earlier report, that David Yungmann categorized as “gushing like a school girl,” others readily confirmed that he had far outshone his opponent, Liz Bobo.

Someone said it looked as if Liz didn’t even want to be there.

That’s no surprise. This was a group of business people, real business people.

Bob told me that his biggest obstacle has been getting voters in the district to look beyond the “R” label. “I find that if I can get them to spend a few minutes talking to me I can get them past that.”

If he only had eleven more months.

I also got to meet Ed’s special guest of the evening, Tony O’Donnell. Tony is the House of Delegates minority leader from District 29C (Calvert / St. Mary’s). He also serves on the Environmental Affairs Committee with Liz Bobo. I’ve noticed that it doesn’t matter what party they’re in, when I mention Liz’s name eyes tend to roll.

I didn’t stay for the speeches but I did get to speak with Ed for a bit before I bugged out. With the possible exception of Guy Guzzone, Ed is head and shoulders above any other candidate running for a delegate seat in District 13. He, along with Bob Wheatley and county council candidate Dennis Schrader, have a tough row to hoe in their heavily Dem districts but those voters would be well advised to take a long hard look at him, particularly in comparison to incumbents Shane Pendergrass and Frank Turner

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Suburban Office Market Improving

Rents for Class A office space in the suburbs of Baltimore have increased by 7.7% so far this year, while rents downtown has decreased an average 3.31% according to a report in the recent issue of the Baltimore Business Journal. This can largely be attributed to the mission expansions at the Aberdeen Proving Grounds in Hartford County and Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County. After two years of flat growth this is welcome news for office developers and may help more projects move off the drawing boards and into the ground in HoCo. Already, Greenebaum & Rose has dusted off their plans and started construction on Maple Lawn IV, a 105,000 square foot four story Class A office building in the Business District of Maple Lawn.

It’s pretty much the same story in DC burbs as well. According to this story by V. Dion Haynes in The Washington Post yesterday, the DC area “added a net of 20,000 public and private sector jobs during the past year, according to the government. Growing payrolls often prompt employers to look for more space.”

A clearer picture of the HoCo office situation will emerge next week when the HoCo Economic Development Authority hosts its 2010 Commercial Real Estate Tour. This event is held every eighteen months and provides a comprehensive overview of the state of the HoCo office market for regional commercial real estate brokers, bankers, and architects. This year the tour will kick off with a breakfast in the newly completed EmersonOne, one of only two Class A office projects completed in HoCo this year.

Monday, October 18, 2010

Pity Mr. Pitney

Two years ago, when we had a receptionist in those pre recession days, one of her jobs was to keep the office postage meter going. It took about six months after she had left for the meter to run out of funds. By that time, our relationship with the postage meter had changed. We no longer considered it mission critical. It wasn’t that many years ago that we sent out regular mailings to our clients and customers via snail mail. Now it’s all done via email.

The now disabled postage meter sat unfunded. When we moved our offices back in July it was placed in a box. Three months later it’s still in that box and will remain. It’s not really ours either, it belongs to Pitney Bowes and now that we aren’t using it they would like to have it back. They can have it.

I wonder how many other companies are sending their meters back to Mr. Pitney. I can easily imagine a warehouse filling up with returned postage machines as the volume of US Mail has declined from over 200 billion pieces of mail annually in 2005 to approximately 175 billion pieces of mail this year. The Kiplinger Letter predicts that this will drop to about 160 billion pieces of mail in 2015.

In other words, it’s not exactly a growth industry.

The Problem with Bloggers

In a post yesterday on the Howard County Citizens Association listserv, Mona Brinegar took issue with the HoCo loco blog community. “The problem in our blog community is domination of one-sided arguments and bearing down on open discussion until it is nonexistent.”

Wow! There is a lot to dissect in that seemingly simple statement.

Let’s take the “domination of one-side arguments” first. There is really no barrier of entry to blogging. It costs nothing to start a blog but one’s own time. In HoCo, we have an extraordinary collection of blogs that cover every topic under the sun. If one or two blogs appear to “dominate” it is only because the blogger is a proliferate poster who writes with the reader in mind. Most blogs, this one included, are only as good as what they put up everyday. Dominance can be fickle.

What I really don’t get is the “bearing down on open discussion” cut. If anything, blogs that liberally allow comments, provide a forum for more open discussion of local issues. Blogs and their comments keep an issue alive much longer that a printed article in a paper or a one minute segment in a broadcast. Sure, there are those anonymous commenter’s who go off half cocked with acerbic diatribe but those types of comments only reflect poorly on the commenter, not the discussion.

Perhaps Mona is jealous since her own attempt at loco publishing was short lived. Howard County Issues was published nine times in two years. The last issue was published over a year ago. It’s hard to build an audience with that little frequency, much less achieve anything remotely resembling dominance. It's failure to find an audience could also be attributed to it's underlying message and lack of concern for the reader.

Sunday, October 17, 2010

Hard Science HoCo

Fifty seven percent of all adults in HoCo have a college degree, thirty nine percent of those degrees are in the hard sciences such as mathematics, biology and engineering, the highest concentration of hard science degrees in the Washington, D.C. metro area. According to this story by Daniel deVise in The Washington Post, " 13 percent of degrees are in engineering."

As someone with a Bachelor of Arts degree I found all science hard.

Scene This Week In…

Peanut needed new shoes. As any parent will attest, buying shoes for your kids is something you always feel like you just did.

"Didn't I just buy you a new pair of shoes?"

"Those were sneakers dad."

And so they were. What she wanted yesterday was replacements for her L.L. Bean slip on shoes so we headed on over to The Mall. Outside the Scouts were selling popcorn while inside the shoe department was hopping. Anthony, our sales clerk, had beads of sweat on his forehead as he worked to handle the onslaught of customers. When he asked if there was anything else we needed today my eyes drifted to the snow boots.

Last season I waited too long to buy her snow boots and it was only after running all around town that I snagged one of the last remaining pairs at Nordstrom.

She's already grown out of those so I went ahead and picked up snow boots yesterday too.

"We sold out of snow boots by December last year," Anthony told me. I know, I know.

Of course buying snow boots this early pretty much guarantees that we won't have much snow this year. When we got home my neighbor was putting the final touches of his Halloween decor. Peter goes all out with his spooky vignettes and each year is an original production. The theme this year is zombies.

When I spoke with Peter he was trying to figure out what to do with the coffin he built for last years display.

Later on I went down to the Wine Bin in Ellicott City to replenish my wine supply. As I pulled into the parking lot I noticed that the movie screen was still attached to the side of the store. I thought the Saturday night movie nights were over now that the fall weather has arrived so I asked  Dave Carney, the store owner, what was up.

"We're doing a movie on the Saturday night before Halloween," he told me. On Saturday October 30th at 6:30 PM they will be showing Ghostbusters in the parking lot. "Then we'll do one more for Midnight Madness  on December 3rd. I've rented ten California heaters and stand up tables." They will also be selling a warm spiced cider. He realizes that it will probably be too cold for people to stay for a whole movie so that nights feature film will be an old holiday favorite, "It's a Wonderful Life." It's a movie that most folks have seen at least once so if they arrive or leave in the middle of the film it's no big deal.

Friday, October 15, 2010

HoCo Patches

There is a new player in the HoCo loco news scene. Patch, a hyper local news website backed by AOL, now has three "patches" up and running in HoCo; Ellicott City, Columbia, and Savage-Guilford.

AOL describes Patch as a hyper loco news site "run by one professional local editor who, along with freelances, provides quality original news and information to its community."

They have targeted "communities of 15-100k population that are drastically underserved by media and would benefit by having access to local news and information about government, schools and business. These could be inner-city neighborhoods or distinct towns."

I wouldn't exactly characterize HoCo as "drastically under served by media." It's more likely that they were attracted by our awesome demographics. Consider that the inaugural Patch communities were all in New Jersey and Connecticut, suburbs of one of the largest media markets in the country. There are no Patch sites in West Virginia or Kansas. According to this report by Joseph Tartakoff in The Guardian "Patch is selecting towns to expand to based in part on a 59-variable algorithm that takes into account factors like the average household income of a town, how often citizens vote, and how the local public high school ranks."

"Once in town, Patch will vigorously target local businesses by courting them to "buy banner ads and also letting them set up their own business listings, which they can convert into ads."

The company plans to have 500 Patches up and running by the end of this year which is a huge increase from only 12 just a year ago.

The inaugural Columbia Patch home page includes a video clip of Mary Kay Sigaty at the HoCo Chamber Candidate Forum this week. The Savage Guilford Patch features Dennis Schrader and Jen Terrassa at the same forum. HoCo Risings hip makes a cameo appearance.

All in all Patch is the real deal and a welcome addition to those of us insatiable for more HoCo loco content.

Welcome Patch.

In This Months Business Monthly

Ordinarily I would put up a post and a link to my column in The Business Monthly shortly after it goes online. This generally occurs within a week of the print publication of the paper. This month, when I went to check and see if it was up, instead of The Business Monthly website I got a message that said the domain had expired.

That didn't sound right.

At the candidates forum on Wednesday I ran into the publisher, Becky Mangus, and asked her what was up. She proceeded to tell me how someone had stolen the domain. The details are still a bit sketchy but it appears that someone, somehow, had gained control of the and then tried to sell it back to them. The paper lawyered up and got the domain back without paying the domain extortionst. There is obviously more of story here and I'll try to get more details and report back.

In the meantime, my column this month was inspired by the Halyomorpha halys, also know as the stink bug. This little insect from Asia has been the subject of many a column in recent months so it wasn't exactly an original topic. For me, it was divine inspiration. I was well past the deadline for submitting the column and sitting at my computer, wracking my brain to come up with something to write about,when a stink bug landed on my keyboard...

You can finally read this month's column here.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

If It Isn't Broke...

Oftentimes when the subject of the governing of Howard County comes up, someone will quip "it's hard to screw up Howard County."

There is a good deal of truth in that statement. Compared to other jurisdictions, even those on our borders, we have it good here in HoCo with great schools, low unemployment rate, abundant parks and open space, and a Wegmans on the way.

HoCo, where all the women are strong, all the men are good looking and all the children are above average (with apologies to Garrison Keillor).

And ever since 1990 when the voters booted Liz Bobo out of the seat and put Chuck Ecker in, we've had a county executive who has worked to create a business friendly environment and grown the commercial tax base. That streak has continued with our current county executive.

Trent Kittleman, the Repub challenger, is no lightweight. She is certainly qualified to be the executive, I don't think many folks would dispute that. Her only problem is that she hasn't been able to come up with a compelling enough argument as to why we should change horses. She has tried to get some traction from suggesting that there are tax increases in our future if we reelect Ken but that has failed to ignite the electorate as evidenced by the failure of the GOP's Taxpayer Protection Initiative. The other issues like whining about flat screen TV's and executive protection come off sounding more like partisan sniping that a strategy for the future.

HoCo isn't broken. It doesn't really fixing inasmuch as it needs good governing. Ken Ulman and his team have done a pretty good job at that for the last four years. There is simply no good reason to change horses in the middle  of the stream.

Ken Ulman for County Executive.

Yesterday at the Forum

HoCo Rising has already provided a pretty nice recap of yesterdays HoCo Chamber forum for county executive and county council candidates so I'll just throw in a couple of additional observations from my side of the podium.

This was the third candidates forum I've attended and the first ever that I have moderated. The other two were sponsored by the HoCo League of Women Voters. This main difference between the two was that the 125 or so attendees at yesterdays event paid thirty five bucks to educate themselves on the field of candidates, while the LWV forums were both free. The other difference was that the chamber allowed the audience to take pictures. At both of the LWV forums I was told by LWV members that I couldn't take pictures, though at the second one I did it anyway, albeit a bit surreptitiously.

As far as the forum itself, I doubt any minds were changed by listening to the candidates. The only challenger who may have benefited was Dennis Schrader. Though Jen Terrasa clearly put in her best performance so far, Dennis can off as much more confident and comfortable with the issues in District 3. If you didn't know better you'd have thought he was the incumbent which of course he once was. Dennis also gets points for the best line of the morning when he said "Local politics are the bedrock of this nation."

I couldn't agree more.

I also got to spend some quality time with Zaneb Beams (AKA Dr. Moonbeams). We had a chance to talk before the forum started and I found her to be both passionate and confident of her ability to make a difference. In fact, I was just starting to think that maybe I should drop the whole Moonbeams thing when she told me that as a doctor of medicine she knows the inside of the brain and how it works. I was under the impression that she was a pediatrician not a neurologist. Anyway, that statement struck me as a bit odd and when she repeated the same line on the dais the audience reaction seemed to be the same as mine.

A couple of school board candidates also attended the forum. Larry Walker showed up looking sharp in a suit while Bob Ballinger took the casual route and wore a golf shirt. That sort of stood out in room where most of the men sported ties. Later, in a conversation about the school board candidates with a seasoned loco political consultant who is working with the Ulman campaign, I was told that Bob is also an Allen Dyer disciple. I hadn't picked up on that before. I've come to see Cindy Vaillancourt, Leslie Kornreich and now Brian Meshkin as Dyer disciples but I didn't see Bob in that camp too. Fortunately I'll get the opportunity to explore this with him next week on our podcast when he'll join us for the two minute segment at the end of the show.

Stay tuned.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Coyotes in HoCo

I was surprised the first time I heard that coyotes were seen around Ellicott City. I always figured that this particular pack animal was more commonly found in the southwest. This can likely be attributed to the fact that my actual knowledge of coyotes was largely formed by watching Roadrunner cartoons... right on through college.

It turns out that coyotes, like deer are highly adaptable. According to this story on Midday with Dan Rodricks on WYPR, they seem to be doing quite well around here. Dan interviews the authors of "Urban Carnivores: Ecology, Conflict and Conservation." about the infiltration of coyotes into urban and suburban communities. As it turns out, midwestern coyotes started appearing in Maryland in the 1970's and the populations are growing. "They've doubled their range and are exploring new habitats everyday."

Coyotes came back on my radar when Kristi Simon told me she was alerted by her village newsletter "saying there are coyotes running around Dorsey and parts of Howard County, and this has been confirmed as legitimate by the DNR. It warned that they are eating out of trash cans and can "attack small dogs and cats", and warned people not to let their pets out alone."

She was very concerned for her dog.

There is good news though. The coyotes are carnivores. They like deer too.

Four Years of Blogging

Today marks the fourth anniversary of Tales of Two Cities and what a long strange trip it's been. Four years ago HoCo blogs were easily dismissed as insignificant background noise in the loco politico dialogue. As testament to how much has changed, this morning two local bloggers moderatedHoCo Chamber of Commerce forum for county executive and county council candidates.

When I started blogging I had no idea where it would lead. My primary motivation four years ago was to defend the development community that I felt was being portrayed as the scapegoat for all of the ills in the county in the last countywide elections. I doubt that I changed any minds but at least I tried to offer a different perspective.

Four years is a long time in blog years and Tales of Two Cities is very different than it was in 2006. Though I still defend the industry I work in I have also expanded the range of topics that I post about and that has led to more prolific posting. In 2006 I wrote a total of 22 posts between October 13th and the end of the year. Nowadays I average 59 posts in a month.

Appropriately, the first blog post went up on a Friday the 13th and  it had the further distinction of being the only post out of over 1,500 that wasn't actually written by me. It was written by my long time friend, Jim Binckley who was frustrated because The Columbia Flier wouldn't print his Letter to the Editor. I posted his letter and thus my blogging journey began.

Thanks to all who visit here. If y'all keep reading, I'll keep blogging.

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

About That Security Clearance...

I had a meeting up in Towson this morning so I got to listen to the Kojo Nnamdi show on WAMU on my way back to HoCo. The second segment of todays program was entitled "The Security Clearance Conundrum." which was all about getting and keeping a security clearance.

This is certainly a timely topic for a large (and growing) portion of the HoCo loco workforce. There are a myriad of ways that an existing clearance can be put in jeopardy including giving your kid a foreign sounding name like Barak. The guests offered tips on what you can do if your clearance is denied or revoked.

Bottom line?

Get a lawyer.

Now It's Official

A month ago, when I wrote this post about the new name for the General Growth Properties spin off company, I was asked by a senior executive at GGP to play that down. Apparently, William Ackman, one of the largest shareholders in the newly created entity, had spoken out a little too soon. At that point the company was still assembling its new board.

Now it's official. According to this story by Steve Green in the Las Vegas Sun, the new company has assembled it's board of directors and formally adopted a new old name, The Howard Hughes Corporation. GGP had already been using this name for some of it's Las Vegas operations. The company obtained the rights to the Howard Hughes name when they acquired The Rouse Company in 2004. The Rouse Company acquired the Howard Hughes Corporation in 1996. During Howard Hughes lifetime the company was known as Summa Corp.

What has yet to be decided is where the new firm will be headquartered.

"There was no mention in today's announcement on whether a decision had been made on where the new The Howard Hughes Corporation would be based and if any corporate jobs would be moving around as part of the spinoff. A spokesman said there was no immediate information to disclose on those issues."

On the other hand they do already own a pretty nice headquarters building in Columbia.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Eateries Scouting Sites in HoCo

A sub shop from the Jersey shore and a grilled cheese cafe' are scouting for locations in HoCo to open new stores, signaling a rebound in the loco HoCo restaurant business. According to this story by Joanna Sullivan in the Baltimore Business Journal, HoCo has seen a net loss of eleven eateries since 2008.

Last month Mark Smith reported in The Business Monthly that Jersey Mikes, a sub shop chain that started in Point Pleasant Beach, New Jersey,  is searching for " for locations in Columbia and Ellicott City."

Jersey Mikes now has 430 stores in 28 states. The closest existing store to HoCo is in a shopping center in Laurel.

This past Friday I ran into a fellow commercial real estate colleague, John Sindler. John was with some folks from Grilled Cheese & Co scouting sites in Columbia. When I saw him they were checking out the former Orinoco Coffee Shop off McGaw Road.

Griiled Cheese & Co opened their first store in Catonsville earlier this year.

You can count me amongst those who were a bit surprised that someone would open a restaurant featuring grilled cheese sandwiches. This has got to be one of the easiest foods to fix yourself, then again it is rather iconic.

Sunday, October 10, 2010


Before we headed home from the Oktober Fest yesterday, we decided to venture a little further north up I-83 to check out Wegmans in Hunt Valley. Neither of us had ever been  in a Wegmans before and we were curious to see what all the excitement was about.

Now I get it. The place is basically a celebration of all things food. In the prepared food section alone there was a coffee shop, a sushi bar, a delicatessen, a fish market, a bake shop and a butcher.

And this wasn't even in the cafe'!

Mama Wordbones isn't usually impressed by food retailers. She was definitely impressed with Wegmans.

We've resolved to return again this winter. It would make a great day trip on one of those cold winter weekends...after football season of course.