Here's a withering statistic for anyone considering starting a small business: 80 percent fail within the first year.
Entire consulting and how-to book industries are built on overcoming that dilemma . But a group of Howard County business owners and economic development experts thinks it has developed a more direct way to reduce that failure rate locally and address other problems small businesses face.
The group is proposing a publicly and privately funded Small Business Resource Center in the new Howard County office building on Columbia Gateway Drive.
In one office, the center would pull together access to the numerous databases and government resources available for small businesses. Those resources would range from retired business executives who can offer advice to information on where to apply for minority business loans.
"We have a lot of very good resources in the county for small businesses and fledgling businesses, but they are too fragmented and scattered. That in itself is a frustration to someone trying to find the information they need," said Richard Story, executive director of the Howard County Economic Development Authority.
Small businesses account for the bulk of the county's employment. About 5,500 businesses are located in Howard County. Twenty-five have more than 200 employees.
"This center would be a recognition of the importance of the small business in our labor market," Mr. Story said.
Organizers hope that the center will help the county retain employers, draw more minority-owned businesses and reduce the failure rate.
As envisioned by organizers, the 1,600-square-foot center would have a small bank of computers linked to business databases at Howard Community College, the local library system and elsewhere.
The center would include a library of reference materials, lists of local business experts and mentors, rooms for business counseling and a meeting room.
In addition, the state's local Small Business Development Center office would move to the resource center.
"The goal of this center would be to bring everything -- information and referral -- under one roof. It would be a one-stop shop," said Earl Saunders, who owns a marketing and consulting company and is chairman of the county Economic Development Authority's Equal Business Opportunity Committee. The committee has backed the resource center idea for several years.
The center would be modeled, in part, on a small-business resource center in Washington that operates with the help of federal Small Business Administration, Mr. Saunders said.
To launch the center by January, the Economic Development Authority, which is a public-private partnership, and small-business leaders have asked the county for about $58,000 in seed money.
Most of that money would go toward hiring two full-time employees, a resource center manager and an administrative secretary.
Mr. Story and other backers of the project will make a formal
pitch for the money to the County Council Oct. 17.
Mr. Story said state and federal grants and contributions from county businesses would finance the balance of the center's projected $130,000 budget for its first year.
A long-term goal is to run the center without public funding, Mr. Story said.
That might be accomplished by generating wide financial support from local businesses and by keeping costs down by charging for some of the center's resources, such as time spent searching databases by computer.
Visitors to the center would find knowledgeable staff members to direct them to the right resources for their needs.
"One of the common problems anyone starting a business faces is where to get the information they need to get started and stay in business," Mr. Saunders said. "You spend a lot of time bumping around and learning as you go along. This kind of a resource could help people avoid a lot of that."
Mr. Story hopes that the county's Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) would play an important role at the center.
"Our SCORE chapter is more or less dormant right now, but there's a lot of very good experience out there that could be put to great use through the center, particularly mentoring" new small businesses and owners, Mr. Story said.
The number of people who stopped by the center and the nature of their inquiries would be tracked during the first year.