Md. businesses trying to track own needs

June 08, 1993|By Ross Hetrick | Ross Hetrick,Staff Writer

In an effort to create an early- warning network about business problems, the Maryland Business Council has begun testing a program to track the needs of companies in Baltimore City and Anne Arundel County.

The program mirrors a similar effort launched by the Greater Baltimore Committee in 1985 that wound down over the years because of the press of other projects.

Dubbed "Take the Lead," the program calls for representatives from the Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., the Chesapeake & Potomac Telephone Co. and First National Bank of Maryland to regularly inquire about the financial health of their business contacts.

Other organizations that are involved are the state Department of Economic and Employment Development, the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp., Baltimore Development Corp. and the University of Maryland Technology Extension Service.

"We're developing a system for taking good care of our own -- to build a private, grass-roots base of business cooperation," said council President Donald P. Hutchinson in a prepared statement.

The Maryland Business Council is the parent organization of Maryland Economic Growth Associates (MEGA), which will provide the staff for the project, and the Maryland Chamber of Commerce.

During the two-month test, which started June 1, 52 executives involved in sales and community relations from the two utilities and bank will ask their regular business contacts about the health of their operations. They will feed that information back to the council, which will work with local and state economic development agencies.

Based on the results, a statewide program might be implemented, said Jane M. Shaab, director of national marketing for MEGA.

The inquiries are intended to cover three general areas: work force fluctuations, needs for expansion or changes in plant and facilities, and needs from government agencies.

No formal questionnaire will be used, she said. "It's a suggested dialogue," she said. All information will be kept confidential unless permission for disclosure has been obtained from the employer, she said.

"I think it will be more than just early warning," she said. "It will tap into the needs of Maryland businesses."

Unlike the earlier GBC program, which had representatives contact economic development agencies directly, the information will be funneled through MEGA, she said. "Hopefully, that will add some accountability," Ms. Shaab said.

The GBC launched a business retention program in 1985 that used Baltimore banks and accounting and law firms to collect information about business needs in the Baltimore region, said David M. Gillece, who headed the project when he was deputy director of the Baltimore business group. Mr. Gillece now heads his own economic development consulting firm, Gillece & Associates.

"It had a very elaborate, written survey form," he said, adding that the findings resulted in a 1986 report that highlighted the need for mass transit to carry workers from the city to suburban work sites.

But after Mr. Gillece left the group in 1988, the program was eclipsed by other GBC projects. "There wasn't enough staff time to do all the things we were doing," said Walter Sondheim, the current interim president of the GBC.

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