Ulman puts focus on the positive in State of the County speech

In his annual State of the County address Tuesday, County Executive Kenneth Ulman talked of how, despite difficult economic times in the past year, Howard County has managed well, partnered well and invested well.

Those three accomplishments were the overarching themes of Ulman’s upbeat address, delivered Tuesday at Turf Valley conference center in Ellicott City in front of the county Chamber of Commerce, among other guests.

Though the accomplishments Ulman listed were many, the challenges were largely missing from the speech.

“People know our challenges,” he said afterward. “We have a great story to tell. I want us to focus on the positive.”

Ulman’s audience seemed to appreciate the positive outlook.

“When you set the tone for the positive, it makes all of our jobs easier,” County Council member Mary Kay Sigaty, a Columbia Democrat, said.

Her fellow council member and Columbia Democrat, Jennifer Terrasa, agreed.

“It’s always exciting to hear the highlights of all the things we’ve done over the past years,” she said.

Pete Mangione, the general manager of Turf Valley Resort and Chamber of Commerce board member, said the speech had no surprises.

“We obviously have a great county here,” he said.

Ulman started his speech talking about how, as in past years, the state of the county is strong and getting stronger. He mentioned the impact of the national economic crisis, which he said has affected everyone.

“While we see some light in the distance, we know that we have a way to go before exiting the tunnel,” Ulman said. “But we have spent the last four years ensuring that when the recovery does take hold, Howard County is fully engaged in taking advantage of the opportunities created by this economic transformation.”

The key to the county managing successfully through tough times, Ulman said, has been conservative budgeting, which included cuts to the print shop, cable TV studio, take-home cars, cell phones and benefit costs.

“All these cuts were painful, but they were also necessary,” he said.

Ulman touched on some of the significant partners the county relies on, including the County Council, police, the fire department, the school system and the Columbia Association. He singled out two people who died in the past year who made important contributions to Howard County: former Recreation and Parks Director Gary Arthur and former Columbia Association President Maggie Brown, who Ulman called the “quintessential Columbian.”

But the county’s most significant partnership, he said, is with the county citizens, whom he called his bosses.

“Believe me, I do hear from our residents,” Ulman said. “Whether I am at the grocery store or at Costco chasing down our daughters getting free samples, I get an earful.”

While managing well and partnering well have brought the county success, Ulman noted, investing well is the key to continued success.

“That means planning carefully to make the most of the resources we have and positioning ourselves strategically to be able to take full advantage of the opportunities that present themselves,” he said. “And nowhere is this more important than in our land-use planning.”

After talking about the upcoming General Plan update and redevelopment in downtown Columbia and the Route 1 and Route 40 corridors, Ulman touched on the impact the Base Realignment and Closure process and the statewide broadband initiative will have on the county.

“Maryland is known as the old line state,” Ulman joked, “but today I am proposing we rename ourselves ‘the online state.’ ”

In closing his speech, Ulman said he has little doubt about where the county is headed with its “caring and committed families, an engaged citizenry bursting with good ideas, business leaders who want to do well for themselves and our community and hard-working public servants able to develop the solutions that these challenging times demand.

“It is a tall order, but together we will make Howard County even better.”