May 23 - May 29, 2024


   

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The Prince George’s County Planning Department of The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission hosted a graduation ceremony to celebrate the Spring 2024 Cohort of the recently launched Neighborhood Planning Academy on Wednesday, May 15, 2024, at the M-NCPPC Largo Headquarters. 
Photo courtesy M-NCPPC
The Prince George’s County Planning Department of The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission hosted a graduation ceremony to celebrate the Spring 2024 Cohort of the recently launched Neighborhood Planning Academy on Wednesday, May 15, 2024, at the M-NCPPC Largo Headquarters.

 

M-NCPPC Prince George’s County Planning Department Recognizes the Neighborhood Planning Academy Spring 2024 Cohort with Graduation Ceremony

By CALISTA BLACK
M-NCPPC

LARGO, Md. (May 16, 2024) —The Prince George’s County Planning Department of The Maryland-National Capital Park and Planning Commission hosted a graduation ceremony to celebrate the Spring 2024 Cohort of the recently launched Neighborhood Planning Academy on Wednesday, May 15, 2024, at the M-NCPPC Largo Headquarters. Designed specifically for Prince George’s County residents and community stakeholders, the Neighborhood Planning Academy demystifies the often-complex process of planning and development and empowers participants to become advocates for the current needs and future of their neighborhoods. This spring, 40 representatives, reflecting all regions of Prince George’s County, were selected from more than 230 applications to participate in a seven-week program to learn the ins and outs of the planning framework in Prince George’s County, how to engage in the development review process, and how to advocate for their community goals and visions.

During the graduation ceremony, participants delivered Capstone Project Presentations that incorporated independent research findings and lessons and topics from the curriculum. Through weekly classes, the participants explored the History, Present, and Future of Prince George’s County, Planning 101, the Development Review Process, Building Healthy, Sustainable and Resilient Communities, and Multimodal Transportation and Street Safety. Based on feedback from the Fall 2023 inaugural cohort, a new class was added to the program to delve deeper into PGAtlas.com—a free public web application and online mapping tool.

“M-NCPPC sees the importance of an empowered community, and the Neighborhood Planning Academy teaches us that there is leadership at every level,” said Peter A. Shapiro, Chair of M-NCPPC and the Prince George’s County Planning Board. “Learning is a two-way street, and the wonderful capstone project presentations provide fresh perspectives on community challenges.”

“The Neighborhood Planning Academy is a top-notch program that sets a standard for other regional and national programs to follow,” said Lakisha Hull, Director of the M-NCPPC Prince George’s County Planning Department. “As the new planning director in Prince George’s County, as well as a brand new resident, I can attest to the high-quality curriculum and basic understanding that the team delivers to our residents and stakeholders.”

The Spring 2024 Cohort of the Neighborhood Planning Academy included Joseph Adams, Aaron Adams, Nohely Alvarez, Marina Anwuri, Genesis Baez, Tiffany Belk, Tawana Bostic, Dr. Cecil Boyd, Stephanie Bradley, June Bullock-Dixon, Teilla Chase, Adewale Dada, Marian Dombroski,
 
Harold Dugger, Hala Flores, Chyna Fries, Michelle Garcia, Lakisha Hull, Angela Jackson, Donnie Joyner, Amber Maikui, Jamileth Mendez, Camille Mosley-Pasley, Chris Nelson, Emmanuel Ogundipe, Stephanie Perry, Alvin Pounds, Michelle Rennie, Jim Schmitz, Ashley Sharp, John Sheridan, Valerie Silensky, Quineesa Smith, Erika Vivar, Evan Waksler, Malaysia White, John-Phillip Williams, Garrett Williams, and Daija Yisrael.

Since the launch of the program in the fall of 2023, the Neighborhood Planning Academy has received more than 500 applications from interested Prince George’s County residents and stakeholders. For more information on the Neighborhood Planning Academy, visit: https://academy.pgplanning.com. Prince George’s County residents and stakeholders may join the mailing list to receive announcements on applications for the Fall 2024 cohort and upcoming courses.


Visit our website, www.pgplanning.org to learn how you can become engaged in shaping the future of your community.

 

 

 

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Prince George’s County Leads Environmental Justice Initiative in Partnership with GWRCCC: Cleaner Vehicles for Healthier Communities

By PRESS OFFICER
GWRCCC

Largo, Md. (May 15, 2024)—Prince George’s County teamed up with Optimus Technologies, Chevron REG and the Greater Washington Region Clean Cities Coalition (GWRCCC) to announce the launch of an exciting new transit project, the 100% Biodiesel (B100) Transit Pilot Program. This initiative, made possible by support from the Maryland Energy Administration’s (MEA) OPEN grant program, is a major step forward for environmental justice, emission reductions, and decarbonization in underserved communities in our region.

The program aims to reduce greenhouse gas emissions right away. It uses the Optimus Vector System, an advanced fuel system upgrade, to power buses with B100 biodiesel. This system can also cut CO2 emissions by over 90%. In addition to biodiesel buses, electric buses will be used for certain routes. Instead of relying solely on diesel for longer routes, Prince George’s County views the use of B100 biodiesel as an opportunity to achieve significant carbon emissions reductions, with a minimum reduction of 75% per gallon compared to diesel.

The Department of Public Works and Transportation (DPW&T) and Office of Central Services (OCS) are leading Prince George’s County’s B100 pilot effort. Prince George’s County operates 3,500 vehicles, and the success of this pilot has the opportunity to lead to the County transitioning 375 current diesels to B100. Since these vehicles are currently operating on diesel fuel, the use of B100 will reduce their carbon emissions by over 75% immediately.

Potentially, the County could reduce its direct carbon emissions by 44,858 metric tons annually and about 450,000 metric tons over the course of 10 years.

Michael Johnson, Director of DPW&T, credits the B100 Pilot Project as part of the Transit Transformation Initiative. “The Department of Public Works and Transportation is committed to creating a comprehensive, integrated multi-modal transportation network accessible to everyone,” said Johnson. “During the project’s implementation, we will continue to work with our critical regional partner, the Washington Metropolitan Area Transportation Authority (WMATA). In addition to pursuits with local transit systems, TheBus and Call-A-Bus, the Transit Transformation initiative is projected to prioritize transit performance, enhance accessibility to jobs, schools, and essential services, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.”

Colin Huwyler, the CEO of Optimus Technologies, the manufacturer of the Vector System, expressed enthusiasm stating “I am thrilled to see the expansion of our Vector System Technology to use B100 in Prince George’s County’s transit fleet. This demonstrates the practicality and success of using biodiesel to drive positive change in local communities. Prince George’s is the first County government using the technology for transit bus applications and is setting the standard for other transit fleets to follow."
 
Jon Scharingson, Director of Strategic Initiatives for Chevron Renewable Energy Group, highlighted the pivotal role of forward-thinking leaders and collaborative funding in propelling this initiative forward. “The expanded use of B100 in Prince George’s County showcases the momentum of fleets recognizing that they must move toward reducing carbon emissions today rather than waiting for the electric vehicle technologies of tomorrow. This progress wouldn’t have happened without the help of programs like Maryland Energy Administration’s OPEN grant. Chevron REG is proud to be contributing to this effort.”

The MEA’s OPEN grant program has been instrumental in bringing this project to life. By supporting visionary leaders in Prince George’s County, the grant enables the implementation of sustainable solutions tailored to Environmental Justice (EJ) communities. This investment not only reduces emissions but also promotes cleaner transit options, fostering a healthier and more equitable environment for all residents.

The Greater Washington Region Clean Cities Coalition will assist Prince George’s County with outreach and education in EJ communities, with an emphasis on increasing access to clean transportation. Antoine M. Thompson, GWRCCC’s CEO/Executive Director remarked “GWRCCC has made it a high priority to ensure that all communities benefit from clean transportation. We are excited to help Prince George’s County improve its sustainability efforts in cleaner transportation while ensuring that disadvantaged communities of color are not left behind, stated Thompson.”

County officials have highlighted the environmental justice benefits of this grant, emphasizing its significance in emission reduction and equity advancement within underserved communities. The B100 Transit Project Stands as a testament to the County's commitment to addressing environmental challenges and leading the way towards a greener, more sustainable future.

For more information about the Greater Washington Region Clean Cities Coalition, contact Antoine M. Thompson, Executive Director/CEO at antoinethompson@gwrccc.org or (202)-671-1580.

For more information about the B100 transit pilot and the grant’s impact, contact Efon Epanty at emepanty@co.pg.md.us.


The Greater Washington Region Clean Cities Coalition (GWRCCC), focused in the Washington, D.C. metro area, is one of nearly 80 coalitions in the U.S. that fosters economic, environmental, and energy security by working locally to advance affordable, domestic transportation fuels, environmental justice, energy efficient mobility systems, and other fuel-saving technologies and practices. Find out more at https://www.gwrccc.org

 

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Prince George’s Has More New Businesses Than Any Maryland County. What’s Behind the Surge?

By JAMES MATHESON

A Black-owned Startup in Prince George’s County: PerVista Aims to Prevent Active Shooters

By JAMES MATHESON
Capital News Service

A yellow bus filled with middle schoolers heading home slowed to a stop at the corner of Sutler Drive and Iverson Street in Prince George’s County. It was just before 5 p.m. on a spring Monday in May 2023.

Three young people hidden behind black face-coverings burst onto the bus, past the driver and
 
the bus aide.

The masked juveniles held a handgun to the chest of the lone middle schooler who remained on the bus, according to Prince George’s County Police. The trigger was pulled, but the gun jammed three times. The assailants beat the boy and fled the scene.

Although disaster was averted that day, the incident weighed on Vennard Wright, a security and technology specialist who a few years earlier formed a cybersecurity firm called Wave Welcome.

As a native of Prince George’s county, Wright had seen enough gun violence and wanted to do something about it.

“Thankfully the gun jammed,” Wright said of that heartbreaking day last May. “But because of that, we developed a technology that uses AI to detect firearms and notify police.”

Wright is among a growing number of African Americans who in recent years have formed companies in Prince George’s County, which has become the leading county in the state for the number of new businesses, according to data from the United States Census Bureau.

Wright’s newest company, which he founded last year with his wife Janelle, is called PerVista. It uses artificial intelligence to scan surveillance footage alongside a database of firearms. The system triggers an alert and sends the portion of video to public safety officials and police if anything from the footage matches the database.

The company hopes to sell its services to schools, shopping malls, sporting venues and office buildings.

Wright says the technology can detect firearms if any part of the gun is showing, but won’t alert police unless the gun is produced and can accurately be verified as a weapon.

The technology also utilizes a drone called WatchWing to verify the software’s finding. Right now, PerVista does not target concealed carry and doesn’t scan the inside of backpacks.

“Our goal is to reduce the impact and number of active shooter events in schools, hospitals and other public places,” Wright said.

Janelle Wright is now CEO of Wave Welcome while Vennard Wright took the reins at PerVista, which has six full-time employees. The couple is committed to developing an artificial intelligence workforce in the county.

Wright, who graduated from the University of Maryland with a degree in business administration, is author of “Cracking the C-Code,” a book to help readers become C-level executives.

He was also director of technology for Hillary Clinton during her successful re-election campaign for the U.S. Senate in New York in 2006 and her unsuccessful presidential run in 2008. He also served as Prince George’s County chief information officer from 2010 to 2017 and was honored as “Innovator of the Year” in 2023 by the Prince George’s County Chamber of Commerce.

Capital News Service

Prince George’s County has long been considered the poor step-sibling of the Washington area’s more affluent and business savvy counties.

But that image is starting to change as the county becomes an increasingly attractive location for new companies, including many that are developing innovative products and services.

Business leaders say the county is seeing growth in many types of companies, including high technology, cybersecurity and bio-health firms.

Some of the new firms are offspring of business incubators and entrepreneurial support centers at the University of Maryland, Bowie State University and NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Center, according to the Prince George’s County Economic Development Corporation.

Prince George’s, which has a large minority population, is also seeing a spurt in the number of African American and Latino owned business, which range from government contractors and business service providers to small mom-and-pop retail companies.

Jennifer Rios, president of the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Prince George’s County, described what she called a “surge” in new businesses in the past few years, including many owned by Latino immigrants.

A study by the American Immigration Council found that immigrants in the county are 30 percent more likely to start a business when compared to other county residents. Latinos, said Rios, are guided by a desire “to build generational wealth that they can pass along to their children.”

Rios herself owns two businesses, including VARIDD, a commercial landscaping and construction company established in 2022 that has contracts with the Department of Veteran Affairs and the National Cemetery Administration.

Data from the United States Census Bureau seems to confirm Rios’ observations.

The data shows that in Prince George’s, the second most populous county in Maryland, business formations have been rising at a rapid clip for nearly a decade, when they started to surpass the number of formations in Montgomery County, the most populous county in the state.
 
The data shows that in 2022, there were 22,452 business formations in Prince George’s, more than double the number in 2012. In Montgomery, business formations totaled 16,471 in 2022, a 48% increase from 10 years earlier. (The Census Bureau will release business formations statistics for 2023 this summer.)

The government tracks a business formation when an application is filed for an employment identification number, or EIN. (See note below on page A5.) Not every entity that requests an EIN actually forms a business or hires employees. But economists watch the data for patterns to discern changes.

The trends clearly show positive developments for Prince George’s County.

Although Prince George’s has long been home to some high-level research centers and federal government agencies, it also has many low-income communities and higher rates of crime than neighboring counties. The county has pockets with high rates of poverty, but also affluent communities.

Prince George’s median average household income was about $98,000 in 2022, according to the Census Bureau. That was higher than the national average of $75,000 but lower than the neighboring counties of Montgomery at $126,000; Fairfax, Virginia, at $129,000 and Washington, D.C., at $102,000.

Not only is the county seeing growth in startups, it’s welcoming agencies and companies relocating from Washington, D.C., and neighboring counties in Maryland and Virginia.

Most notably, the federal government announced late last year that the FBI’s long-awaited new headquarters will be built in Prince George’s, a major win for the county which beat out bids from Virginia. The FBI is expected to be a draw for a new crop of cybersecurity companies.

The county is already home to several new security firms, including Wave Welcome, which was founded in 2020 by Vennard Wright.

A Black-owned Startup in Prince George’s County: Tetragram Helps Cannabis Users Keep Track of Products

By KIRSTIN NICHOLS
Capital News Service

Otha Smith III has always aimed to live holistically. He eats a plant-based diet and runs three to four miles a day.
 
After suffering a traumatic brain injury in a car crash 18 years ago, during his senior year at Bowie State University, Smith was prescribed a regimen of opioids and other prescription medications to manage his pain.

But soon he ditched the prescriptions, which he considered dangerous, and decided to manage his pain with cannabis, a nontoxic alternative to the doctor’s prescriptions.

The cannabis was an improvement but it was difficult for him to remember which strains and dosages had the desired effect on his pain without leaving him drossy. So he started to keep track of different products and the rate of effectiveness.

Years later, when cannabis became legal in many states across the United States, including Maryland, Smith dove deeper into the medical benefits of cannabis.

One thing he found is that there wasn’t much data that consumers could use to compare products and make informed buying decisions. Even dispensaries selling cannabis and doctors who wanted to recommend specific products, didn’t have enough information to make recommendations.

That’s when “I saw an opportunity,” Smith said.

In 2020, the Prince George’s County native launched Tetragram, a mobile app for cannabis users that allows them to keep track of their product, including where it was purchased, how many milligrams were consumed and the effectiveness on medical conditions such as insomnia and anxiety.

Users have the option to anonymously share their rankings of products or keep them private. Over time, users can look back on entries to determine which product consistencies, consumption methods and dosage amounts best allow them to reach their goals.

Tetragram now works with nearly 300 dispensaries throughout the nation and currently has over 15,000 users on the app.

Smith, who is African American, is part of a trend. In recent years, many new Black-owned companies have set up shop in Prince George’s County, which has become the leading county in Maryland for the number of new businesses, according to data from the United States Census Bureau.

One year after starting Tetragram, at the age of 39, Smith was recognized by Marijuana Venture magazine as one of the rising stars in the cannabis industry under the age of 40.

“All that data that we collect, as you imagine, could become very powerful to the consumer,” said Smith, who is now 42 years old. A new version of the app was released just before Thanksgiving last year that allows healthcare providers to see information from an aggregate level without identifying users.

Tetragram, which has five employees, charges dispensaries and healthcare providers a monthly fee to access the platform. It also sells its data to researchers, universities and medical groups.

Smith primarily works out of his home office in Bowie, the largest city in Prince George's County, although Tetragram also has offices in the Locust Point neighborhood in Baltimore.

Smith said he specifically wanted to start Tetragram in Prince George’s because of the county’s majority Black population.

“Cannabis has been used to marginalize people of color,” who historically have been arrested for cannabis more than others, said Smith.

His goal now, he says, is to educate people in the Black community and elsewhere about the health benefits of cannabis and how to use the product as an alternative to prescription drugs.

In the near future, Smith is looking to expand the app to allow for documentation of
 
psychedelics, such as magic mushrooms, as those products become more widely legalized.

“It’s been one hell of a ride,” Smith said. “We had no idea that building this simple app would be so impactful to peoples’ lives.”

Prior to starting Wave Welcome, Wright held a number of senior technology positions for organizations and was the director of technology for Hillary Clinton’s re-election campaign for U.S. senator from New York in 2006 and for her unsuccessful presidential run in 2008.

Wright started Wave Welcome to provide technology and cybersecurity services to smaller and mid-sized companies, nonprofit organizations and universities.

Such establishments “typically don't have access to high level technology expertise, because they can't afford it,” said Wright. “We make it so that they have access to the technologies and cybersecurity best practices to keep them secure from data breaches and ransomware attacks.”

In May 2023, Wright and his wife Janelle started a second company called PerVista, which uses artificial intelligence to analyze video streams in an effort to spot and prevent gun violence. (See related story, starting on A1.)

Wright, who is African American and a Prince George’s County native, says he was motivated to start his company to “leverage technology to build wealth for minority communities.”

David Iannucci, president and CEO of Prince George’s County Economic Development Corporation, says the growth in new technology businesses isn’t an accident.

“Going back more than 10 years, we analyzed the county’s retention rate for these companies and saw room for improvement,” he said.

The development corporation started to provide greater support to startups and small businesses, such as providing information about funding and hosting workshops and networking events.

Some already existing tech companies are relocating to Prince George’s as well, in part to take
 
advantage of lower real estate costs but also to be an early arrival in what some believe will be a new tech hub and to take advantage of services provided by economic development agencies.

“I originally started my company in Northern Virginia, and I realized there's a million other little companies just like mine that are vying for the same resources and vying for attention,” said Husein Sharaf, the 36-year old founder and chief executive of Cloudforce, a computer consulting firm that specializes in the Microsoft cloud operating system, primarily for Fortune 500 corporations.

Sharaf founded Cloudforce in 2010 as a one-man operation before moving its home-base to Prince George’s in 2014.

“It's just less crowded,” Sharaf said. “Which ultimately means there’s more (funding) per business that’s eligible… there’s more attention here if you know how to network.”

The Washington Business Journal named Cloudforce one of the region’s best companies to work for three consecutive years.

The company has 65 full time employees working from offices at National Harbor, the large business and entertainment complex on the Potomac River just across the line from the District of Columbia.

Sharaf estimates that he’s paying 25% to 30% less for office space in Prince George’s when compared to other nearby locations.

“Finding similar space in Northern Virginia or D.C. that’s Class A waterfront and as nice as National Harbor is going to be obviously much more expensive,” he added.

Sharaf is hoping that as the number of technology businesses in the county grows, the image of the county will improve, encouraging more funders and venture capitalists to take notice.

“Just having a tech ecosystem in the county is good for us because it makes people actually want to come here and stay here and work here,” Sharaf said. “One of the issues that this county has had historically, is that people don't really see it as being one of those places. So the more activity that we have that is public, the more I think we start to create a name for this area.”

Note: How the government counts business formations:

The formations data is not a perfect measure for startups, although the numbers are followed closely to interpret trends. The government tracks when an application is filed for an employment identification number (EIN,) the first step toward starting a business and hiring employees. Just as every worker needs a Social Security number, every business that plans to hire employees or files taxes as a corporation or partnership needs an EIN. Not every entity that receives an EIN actually creates a business, but the sharp increase in applications in the past decade is an indication of growing interest in business ownership.

 

 

 

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