In some unique offices throughout the county, it's not uncommon for a single receptionist to answer five or six consecutive phone calls for five or six quite different companies.
One call might come in for an insurance agent, another for an international business consultant, yet another for a regional sales manager of a major corporation. The receptionist handles several phone lines, each in the name of theindividual company.
The concept of executive suites -- one of shared office space andservices -- blossomed in the mid-1980s. In Anne Arundel County, business people have increasingly turned to the executive-suite alternative since the first center opened eight years ago in Millersville. Nowsuch offices can be found from Annapolis to Linthicum.
In most ofthem, a tenant can rent anything from a bare office with no extras to a fully furnished office with receptionist and secretary, photocopiers, facsimile machines, kitchens and conference rooms.
"We have everything here you need to run a business," said Carol Chesnutt, office manager of Millersville Office Center, which has 12 offices, 10 ofwhich are occupied.
Executive suite managers say the arrangement is ideal for someone from out of town in need of a branch office or for someone starting a new, small business.
It can drastically cut the cost of setting up and furnishing an office, renting and maintaining equipment, making a commitment to a long-term lease and paying office staff salaries, managers say. The tenant generally pays for rentmonthly and for support services as needed.
"There are a lot fewer headaches," said David O'Dea, a Nationwide Insurance agent who rents an office in Eastport from Bayside Office Support Services. He estimated he saves between $500 and $600 per month. "I get the office space with everything I need."
Ann Wieland, executive director of theAnnapolis Science Park Executive Center, which runs a suite of 25 offices on Admiral Cochrane Drive in Annapolis, said centers offer a professional atmosphere to those who otherwise couldn't afford it.
"People get the impression tenants have great big offices with their own secretary," said Susan Best, Bayside's owner.
The client gets abusiness mailing address, conference rooms for meetings and a receptionist who answers with the company name and can direct callers to a corporate office or a voice mailbox.
"Callers get a more complete sense that they've been handled," Chesnutt said.
Tenants also findthemselves relieved of office management duties.
"They're not burdened with day-to-day tasks of running an office," Best said. "If a secretary's sick or a copier breaks down, they still just tend to their business."
Mary Cotton, office manager of the fully leased, 11-office Office Space Plus in Severna Park, adds that most tenants run small enough operations that they could use their homes.
But "for tax purposes, it's difficult to break down the differences between office and personal," she said.
Wieland lists the centers' flexibility as another plus.
"If you're a branch office, and the company is tapping the Maryland area and not sure how it will go, this is a great opportunity to tap it without a lot of overhead," she said. "You can do a month-to-month lease."
Tenants at county executive suites include developers, a grocery food chain trying to establish itself inthe state, computer programmers, a college financial planner, attorneys, accountants, brokers, sales representatives, entrepreneurs, realestate agents, masonry contractors, private investigators, an advertising agency and an architectural engineer.
Several managers said they lost tenants when companies began scaling back regional offices.But centers that offer word processing services outside have seen more companies come to them for temporary help.
"When the recession started, we did lose tenants," said Monica Ingson, office manager of three-year-old Annapolis Offices Inc., which has a 95 percent occupancy rate in a 16-office suite. "A couple guys lost their jobs, and oneguy decided he was not fully using the space and moved into a smaller space. But with one office open, it won't take long to fill."
Michael W. Schneider rented space in Annapolis Science Park two years ago when he started North American Business Ventures, a management consulting service for foreign manufacturers trying to expand to the United States.
Schneider, who has no employees, uses the conference rooms, kitchen, copy and fax machines, word processing and answering services. He estimates he has saved about half of what he would have paid for an office and staff.
The only disadvantage, he says, is not having someone familiar with his business, especially when he travels.
But he said, "I've managed to not have to depend on them. And they tend to get to know your business."