Howard County consistently proves to be one of Maryland’s fastest-growing regions, having increased its population by 34 percent over the course of 10 years. According to statistics compiled by the Howard County Economic Development Authority, the county population is projected to reach more than 327,000 by 2035. Howard County residents rank among the most affluent in the nation, leading other Maryland counties, and the median household income of $109,865 is one of the highest in the country.
Top 5 Reasons to do Business in Howard County
- Central location between Baltimore and Washington, D.C.
- Educated workforce
- Business friendly work environment
- Quality of life
- Proximity to Ft. Meade, NSA, U.S. Cyber Command and Johns Hopkins Applied Physics Lab
Our Largest Employers
- Howard County Public School System – 8,230 employees
- Johns Hopkins University Applied Physics Laboratory – 5,700 employees
- Howard County General Hospital – 1,800 employees
- Verizon – 1,700 employees
- Howard Community College – 1,438 employees
- Lorien Health Systems – 1,190 employees
- W.R. Grace & Co. – 1,100 employees
- Coastal Sunbelt Produce – 1,050 employees
- Giant Food – 1,050 employees
- Wells Fargo – 840 employees
- Oracle/MICROS Systems – 810 employees
- Leidos – 760 employees
- Howard County Library System – nearly 300 employees
* Source: Baltimore Sun Spotlight on Howard County 2017 & Howard County Economic Development Authority
Nearly 10,000 businesses are registered in Howard County, and it’s easy to understand why. The County provides a very welcoming environment for business owners and a thriving local economy.
This includes the creation of The Howard County Economic Development Authority, a public-private partnership, whose primary goal is to help secure Howard County’s future as a Maryland economic development driver. This also includes the creation of a new program called the Local Business Initiative designed to use the county’s government contract dollars to benefit business in Howard County whenever possible.
Howard County Business Resources
Howard County Economic Development Authority
The Howard County Economic Development Authority (HCEDA) provides programs and services connecting business owners and startups with the resources they need. Using a variety of tools and a team of professionals, the HCEDA is a great place to find information on making a business plan, securing funding, and utilizing resources to grow a business in Howard County. The HCEDA offers training programs, development assistance, workshops, and counseling.
HCEDA also has specialized staff to assist businesses in the cyber security industry as well as those interested in expanding into international markets.
Howard County Equal Business Opportunity (EBO) Program
Howard County is committed to creating a more diverse and inclusive business environment. Recognizing an active program of research, technical assistance, and procurement from Minority Business Enterprises (MBEs), Women Business Enterprises (WBEs) and Disabled Business Enterprises (DBEs) is essential to the realization of progressive social and economic development goals, Howard County encourages and promotes participation by MBEs, WBEs and DBEs in its procurement process through the Equal Business Opportunity (EBO) Program.
For more information about Howard County’s Equal Business Opportunity (EBO) Program, contact the Howard County Office of Purchasing by email at Purchasing@howardcountymd.gov.
Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship
The Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship (MCE) was created as part of the HCEDA to help encourage and provide resources, including the Innovation Catalyst, for innovators, entrepreneurs, established businesses, service providers, and investors. The goal is to build a great innovation economy and entrepreneurial ecosystem here in Howard County.
The HCEDA also works with individuals who are interested in starting a business, becoming an entrepreneur, or growing an existing small business. Through their Maryland Center for Entrepreneurship (MCE) in Columbia, business people can be connected to all the resources they need to get off the ground and grow. The MCE is home to a 26,000-sq. ft. incubator run by the HCEDA and is dedicated to serving fast growth tech companies in a variety of industries and areas of expertise. Companies can take advantage of the services and community there in one of two ways; as a resident or an affiliate. They can apply to rent an office space inside the incubator, becoming a resident company, or they can join as an affiliate and use the co-working spaces. Either way, members of the incubator are provided access to all the educational lectures and networking events offered in the MCE as well as the programs offered by the Howard Tech Council. Additionally, every company is assigned an experienced Entrepreneur in Residence to provide them with mentorship, guidance, advice, and connections to resources and individuals.
Business Resource Center
Also located at the MCE, is the Business Resource Center, which is available to any member of the community free of charge. Comprised of both the Small Business Development Center (SBDC) and SCORE, these organizations regularly meet with businesses to provide individuals specialized guidance and advice on all things related to starting or growing a business in Howard County. Additionally, both organizations offer training and programs across the state targeted at the small business community.
Catalyst Fund Loans
The Catalyst Fund, powered by the Howard County Economic Development Authority is part of Maryland’s Video Lottery Terminal Small, Minority and Woman-Owned Business Account Initiative. The fund is a locally managed source of capital used to finance start-ups and expanding businesses statewide whose projects will create permanent jobs and leverage private sector investment. Catalyst is a Revolving Loan Fund, meaning that as borrowers repay their loans, the principal and interest payments are returned to the fund to be loaned to other businesses.
Howard County Public Library
If you’re looking to start a small business or you already own or manage one, Howard County Library System’s new Small Business Resources web pages feature information about everything from preparing and launching a business to building and protecting a business. Everything you need is one place!
Get started at hclibrary.org/small-business-resources.
Howard Tech Council
The Howard Technology Council (HTC) is at the epicenter of the local tech community and was created to cultivate technology through innovative strategic partnerships. HTC gives technology companies in Howard County and the surrounding region a forum for engagement, collaboration, and education through monthly networking events, biweekly speakers and affinity groups and round tables. The HTC is also home to the Chief Information Security Officer In Residence program known as HOCO CISO, along with the MCE. This first of its kind program is designed to address the needs of residents of the MCE, along with the more than 200 member companies of the HTC who do not have their own Chief Security of Privacy Officer.
Local Business Initiative
In November 2015, Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman signed an executive order creating the Local Business Initiative. The order was designed to give a “fair chance” to local businesses that want to bid for and participate in government projects. Recognizing that local businesses are a driving force behind the county’s economy, County Executive Kittleman wanted to make sure that whenever possible, Howard County Government procurement dollars should be spent to support them.
For more information about Howard County’s Local Business Initiative, contact the Howard County Office of Purchasing by email at Purchasing@howardcountymd.gov.
Howard County Agricultural Innovation Grant
Howard County has a grant funding opportunity to encourage the county’s agricultural producers to expand or diversify their business operations. Grants can range from $1,000 to $10,000, for research and development, production buildings, major fixtures, and processing facilities.
State Business Resources
Maryland Department of Commerce
Maryland is Open for Business, and that is very evident at the Maryland Department of Commerce which offers a variety of resources for startups, established businesses, and everything in between. The Maryland Department of Commerce is the state’s primary economic development agency, stimulating private investment and creating jobs by attracting new businesses, encouraging the expansion and retention of existing companies, and providing workforce training and financial assistance to Maryland companies. The agency offers building and site location assistance, finance programs, tax credits, training grants, and business advocacy and consulting.
Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation’s Registered Apprenticeship Program
The U.S. Department of Labor has awarded $50.5 million in grants to help states develop and implement comprehensive strategies to support apprenticeship expansion with Maryland receiving $2 million for an 18 month period. $621,000 is allocated for an Apprenticeship Innovation Fund and funds will be awarded to applicants, so they may implement new and promising ideas, or adapt proven strategies at the systems or service delivery level, so as to expand the reach of RA programs in Maryland. For more information about the Registered Apprenticeship Program click here.
Maryland Industrial Partnerships Program
The Maryland Industrial Partnerships Program (MIPs) brings companies together with University of Maryland based researchers to accelerate the commercialization of intellectual property. Businesses from startups to established companies have been awarded MIPs grants to develop products, processes or training methods.
Maryland Technology Economic Development Corporation
The Maryland Technology Economic Development Corporation (TEDCO) provides seed-stage funding and working capital loans for companies based in technology or other intellectual property, especially when transferred out of a research institution.
Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulations
The Maryland Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulations (DLLR) provides information on the types of businesses and professions that may require licensing. Certain professions require a license through the state. Check the DLLR website for more information. If your business requires a license and you are located in Howard County or store inventory here, you can get your license online or in person at The Thomas Dorsey Building, 9250 Bendix Road, Columbia, MD 21045.
Business Districts and Howard County Geography
Located at the intersection of I-95 and Rt. 175, midway between Washington and Baltimore, Columbia Gateway is already home to over 400 businesses, employing nearly 26,000 people. The park, combined with neighboring Gateway Commerce Center is 920 acres with a total of 8.1 million square feet of commercial space. In 2015, Howard County Executive Allan Kittleman announced a new vision for the business park to be turned into an innovation district where leading-edge companies work with anchor educational institutions and startups to collaborate on new technologies and services. The development of the plan will be coordinated by the Howard County Economic Development Authority, a public-private partnership established to promote economic growth and stability in Howard County.
It is hard to believe now, but Columbia was mostly farmland 50 years ago when James Rouse brought his vision of a planned community to life. Columbia was planned with nine villages, each with village centers designed to create a sense of community between neighbors and local business owners.
Columbia is currently undergoing lots of exciting new development in its downtown area as well as a major revitalization of many of its village centers. The Wilde Lake Village Center has completed much of its revitalization process already, and with the addition of Alta Wilde Lake, becomes the first of the village centers to become truly mixed use. The Village Centers of Hickory Ridge, Oakland Mills, and Long Reach are still in the planning and approval phases of the revitalization process.
Columbia may no longer be primarily made up of farmland, but another element of Rouse’s vision which has flourished over the city’s 50 years is its green spaces. Columbia is still home to 3,600 acres of open space, 114 miles of paths for walking and biking, and 165 total lots!
All of this is just part of the reason Money Magazine named Columbia #1 on its list of the “Best Places to Live” in the U.S. in 2016.
Downtown Columbia, with the Downtown Partnership at the helm, is well into a massive redevelopment effort that has included two new office buildings in the Merriweather District, one of which is now the headquarters for MedStar Health, the largest healthcare provider in Maryland and Washington, D.C. In addition to the new office space, Howard County’s world-renowned concert venue, Merriweather Post Pavilion, has finished the bulk of a multi-year renovation that will allow it to attract the biggest entertainers in the country. Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods also now includes the brand new Chrysalis amphitheater.
Maple Lawn, a 600 acre mixed-use development along Route 29 in Fulton, is another of Howard County’s districts that has seen massive change in recent years. The community, now almost a 20 year project, is home to more than 1,300 homes in five different neighborhoods, 1.4 million square feet of Class A office space, 285,000 square feet of retail space, and the Maple Lawn Community Center.
The Route 40 Corridor, referring to the area on Route 40 between the Howard County line at the Patapsco River and the interchange at Interstate 70, was once mostly rural like much of Howard County. But, over the last half-century, automobile dealerships sprang up in large numbers, along with a lot of commercial and retail space more recently. The Route 40 Corridor is now home to dozens of local restaurants, coffee shops, and bakeries. Because of the increase in traffic that comes with development, the Howard County government is currently working on a Route 40 Streetscape Master Plan to improve road conditions and safety, encourage renovation and redevelopment of older commercial sites, and protect the natural environment in the process.
Historic Ellicott City
Ellicott City is the county seat of Howard County and has been known for its innovation for more than a century as the home of the oldest surviving railroad station in the county. Lines for the first telegraph between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. were strung through the town.
More recently, Ellicott City has become synonymous with resilience. In 2016 and 2018, two flash floods devastated Main Street, led to 4 deaths, and countless business closings. They continue to rebuild during the pandemic and the business owners there continue to innovate and rebuild.
The 12-mile stretch of US Route 1 in Howard County provides a lot of the county’s industrial foundation. The corridor was developed with large manufacturing and distribution centers, small commercial centers, retail space, hotels, restaurants and service businesses along with residential communities. Freight haulers, commuters, pedestrians and bicyclists count on the corridor to get where they’re going, but the area is experiencing an influx of investment and growth in the manufacturing, distribution, and food processing industries. There is also some reinvestment in existing businesses and new companies looking for a place to relocate.
Western Howard County
About 25 percent of Howard County is still farmland and much of it is in Western Howard County. Agriculture is the industry that accounts for most of the land use in Western Howard County, but areas like Marriottsville and West Friendship are experiencing growth in other industries as well. There are 1,548 businesses that call Western Howard County home, employing more than 28,000 people, and accounting for more than $2.4 Billion in sales. Howard County is now home to four craft breweries and several farm-to-table style restaurants that depend on Western Howard County’s farms.