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Thursday, April 23, 2015

New County Partnership With Tech Incubator 1776

Montgomery County Councilmember Hans Riemer, the Council’s lead member for digital government and a member of the committee on economic development, today applauded the new partnership between Montgomery County Government and the Washington, D.C.-based tech incubator 1776. County officials intend for the partnership to significantly expand the County's innovation program in order to modernize County services as well as foster regional entrepreneurship networks that will strengthen the local economy.

The agreement represents the first partnership between 1776, which receives funding from the District of Columbia, and a local government outside of the District. It is part of a groundbreaking effort by the Montgomery County and 1776 to foster regional economic strategies.

In recent years, Montgomery County has been seeking out unique opportunities to bolster innovation and startup growth as part of a larger effort to continue strengthening the County’s economy.

“When I first visited 1776, I was inspired by the potential that I saw for a 1776-Montgomery County partnership to foster regional entrepreneurship networks,” said Councilmember Riemer. “Its focus on companies with ‘smart cities’ solutions also aligns perfectly with our interest in applying innovations to the delivery of services to our residents.

"I’m thrilled that County Executive Ike Leggett and so many of my County Council colleagues are working together to forge this innovative partnership. It is a great step forward for our County’s innovation program and the economic strength of the whole region.”

Councilmember Riemer worked with County Executive Leggett and 1776 to organize a roundtable for local entrepreneurs housed at 1776, which sparked many ideas for how they could join forces. The resulting partnership will represent a major expansion of the County's innovation program, as the County will screen up to 10 companies based in 1776 each year and may agree to work with as many as five on smart-city type services that will benefit residents.

1776 companies also will have opportunities to occupy workspace in Montgomery County’s Thingstitute, an incubator devoted to “Internet of things” technology. The County will become a sponsor of 1776’s upcoming Challenge Festival, which will feature startups from across the globe. In addition, companies in the County's incubator system will have access to 1776 programs.

Montgomery’s Department of Economic Development and County Chief Innovation Officer, Daniel Hoffman, will work to connect 1776 startups with leading Montgomery County employers such as MedStar Health, NIH, GlaxoSmithKline and NIST.

After his initial discussions with 1776 leaders and entrepreneurs, Councilmember Riemer wrote a blog on the 1776 web site called, "Entrepeneurship and Innovation Networks are Regional. Here's Why." In the blog, he wrote:

“In the regional economic-competition model, attracting companies is generally a zero-sum game. But supporting entrepreneurs and young companies and building a thriving regional entrepreneurial scene is not zero sum. The more that a particular region develops as a hub for tech companies, the more that every jurisdiction in the region benefits from the skilled workforce that moves there, the investment capital that follows the entrepreneurs, the income that the employees earn and the services that those companies provide.

“If strong networking is beneficial to the economic development of every jurisdiction, how can local governments in the region work together to build on our strengths? Since 1776—and other incubators like it in places like Chicago and Austin—are already regional entrepreneurship networks, how can we make its regionalism more intentional and therefore more powerful?

“Local governments in the region could become partners of 1776, taking advantage of the content provided by 1776 to support their own incubator networks—and 1776 could work with the jurisdictions to launch programs in their focus areas. Because 1776 focuses on companies that meet government and public sector needs, local officials also could serve as mentors, offering their time as sounding boards or informational resources for those companies, as D.C. city officials already do.”

Several County Councilmembers, including Council President George Leventhal and Planning, Housing and Economic Development Committee Chair Nancy Floreen, have visited 1776 to meet with the organization’s leaders and entrepreneurs.

The County’s relationship with companies in 1776 has already yielded a successful project. TransitScreen, a company working from the 1776 location, created software for showing real-time public transportation information. Two other 1776 startups — Local Roots Farms and SeamlessDocs — also are now working on small projects with the County.

Under the partnership, the products being created by 1776-based startups can be adjusted to meet specific needs of the County.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Making child care a priority

On March 17, I introduced legislation creating a Montgomery County Office of Child Care, Early Care and Education to make affordable, quality, enriching child care available to all families.

A rising number of families in Montgomery County are struggling to find affordable, high quality child care. Census data shows that there are more than 64,852 children below the age of five in the county and the Maryland Family Network reports that regulated child care providers offer only 39,084 slots. This leaves a gap of some 26,000 children. Some undoubtedly stay home with family members and many more are cared for by informal, unregistered providers. Some kids may attend child care in other jurisdictions. But ask any parent about their experience with waiting lists and it is clear that demand far exceeds supply for quality, regulated child care. The skyrocketing price of regulated child care supports this theory. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends that parents spend 10% or less of their family income on child care. Montgomery County residents, on average, spent 22% of their income on child care in 2014. Child care in Montgomery County costs between 32% and 40% more than the state average. The State predicts that costs will continue to increase through 2018 by between 9% and 14% on average. Infant care is predicted to increase a staggering 40% over the next three years with family care providers.

To address these challenges, I propose legislation establishing a new Office of Child Care, Early Care and Education. This Office would have a Director with the seniority and authority to shape policy and forge meaningful partnerships across agencies and with the private sector. Some functions would be consolidated from the Early Childhood group in the County's Department of Health and Human Services and other offices with child care functions across the government. The Office would be charged with developing, updating, and implementing a Child Care Strategic Plan that addresses child care and early learning in a comprehensive way, establishing new relationships and partnerships with agencies and businesses, overseeing the selection of child care providers in public space, and building a stronger bond with parents in the community.

As President Obama said in his most recent State of the Union, "It's time we stop treating child care as a side issue, or a women's issue, and treat it like the national economic priority that it is for all of us." I agree with those comments and I believe this Office will help us to appropriately define the challenge and meet it.

In Maryland, most government regulation and promotion of child care is handled by the State, though the County supplements the state's efforts in certain areas. HHS is laser focused, as it's website states, on core services that "protect the community's health, protect the health and safety of at-risk children and vulnerable adults and address basic human needs including food, shelter and clothing." This is as it should be. We rely on this Department to provide a robust safety net that protects our most vulnerable residents.

We do not, however, only provide education for the most disadvantaged children. I believe we should have a policy strategy for child care that is similarly focused on the entire population, while resources are prioritized according to need. Like education, adequate availability of child care affects every family in Montgomery County. A county program that ensures that every family in Montgomery County has access to high quality, affordable, enriching child care is crucial for developing our workforce and economy, ensuring equal opportunity for men and women, and reducing the achievement gap. The creation of this Office will not solve these problems by itself, but it will at least provide us with the analytical framework and focused staffing to make informed investments and take a deliberate approach to define our next steps. The mission is broader than social services and for this reason I believe it is necessary to establish this function as a principal office rather than a division inside of HHS.

The goals for the Office include:

  • Researching need, availability and cost of care.
  • Identifying measures to reduce the rising cost of child care, and ensuring that affordable early child care and learning are available to all County residents.
  • Ensuring that there are sufficient providers and spaces to meet rising demand.
  • Improving the overall quality of early care and education to adequately prepare children for kindergarten and beyond.
  • Fully integrating child care and early learning into our economic and workforce development strategy.
  • Regular reporting on progress towards the plan.

Monday, March 23, 2015

Tree Care 101

One of the many great things about Montgomery County is our plentiful green space and robust tree canopy. In addition to removing carbon dioxide from the air, trees purify our water, protect our soil, and cool our neighborhoods on hot summer days.

With my 100,000 trees initiative, the county is doing its part to reinvigorate the tree canopy that we all enjoy, but did you know that nearly 85% of the trees in the county are on private land? I’m proud of the county’s investment in the future of our tree canopy, but no matter how much we do, a fresher, greener, shadier future will always depend on a partnership between our government and our citizens.

With that in mind, I hope those of you with trees in your yards will consider a trip out to one of Conservation Montgomery’s Tree Care 101 Classes this spring. This is a great opportunity to speak with tree-care professionals about everything you can do to keep your trees healthy and beautiful, and enjoy some fresh air at the same time. You can also organize a class in your neighborhood, so talk to your friends and neighbors, and you can bring the class to you. Maybe I’ll see you there!

Monday, February 23, 2015

Liquor Control Committee Set to Begin

As you may have heard, the Montgomery County Council recently created an Ad Hoc Committee on Liquor Control, and I am honored to be chairing that committee.

The Committee has been tasked with reviewing, evaluating, and making recommendations about alternate service delivery models and alcohol regulations and policies. In other words, the Committee will be making recommendations on how the County should control alcohol. This is such an important debate because it closely affects our restaurant and entertainment sectors, quality of life, and ultimately our local economy.

As Chair, I look forward to objectively reviewing all the evidence and community feedback on this crucial issue. To do this, we have scheduled four Committee Worksessions for this Winter/Spring.

February 27 – Overview
  • OLO Report 2015-6: Review of Alcohol Control (read the report here)
  • Discussion with Executive Branch

March 6 – DLC Management and Operations
  • OLO review of legal environment/current DLC operations
  • Presentation from IG on Preliminary Inquiry Memorandum and update on ongoing investigation
  • Discussion with DLC and MCGEO

March 20 – Economic Competitiveness
  • OLO review of DLC/private sector pricing, survey results
  • Discussion with Licensees, Distributors and Manufacturers

March 27 – Public Health and Safety
  • OLO review of research on impact of Liquor Control on public health
  • Discussion with public health and public safety officials

The Committee will resume its work after the County's budget cycle finishes in June. We will hold a public hearing and additional worksessions with the goal of making recommendations to the full County Council for action.

But to make sure that we find a solution that works, we need your expertise. As a first step, please reach out to me with your thoughts by emailing or calling my office at 240-777-7964. You can also share your thoughts with the whole council by going to the Committee's Website.

We hope that you will stay engaged with us throughout the entire process, and be on the lookout for updates from me after each worksession. I hope you are as excited as am I to tackle this important issue.