Small business owners express their concerns

January 13, 1995|By Kim Clark | Kim Clark,Sun Staff Writer

Dixie Bacon traveled to Baltimore from Annapolis to insist: Keep out-of-state sales tax collectors away from her second-hand sail business.

Chip Berman, owner of a Rockville restaurant, pleaded for the return of the fully tax-deductible business lunch.

Arthur Holland couldn't say exactly what he wanted, but generally felt small businesses like his Baltimore-based insurance consulting firm should have an easier time maneuvering through governmental bureaucracies.

From the purely self-interested to the wildly idealistic, about 400 owners of Maryland small businesses gathered at the Baltimore Convention Center yesterday to develop a slate of proposals and elect delegates for the third White House Conference on Small Business to be held in June. Previous conferences were held in 1980 and 1986.

And at least one of their wishes -- reducing bureaucratic hassle -- may have been granted within two hours of the opening of the one-day convention.

City and federal officials yesterday dedicated a new one-stop small business resource center at the corner of Baltimore and Charles streets.

The new office will house loan officers, accountants and business advisers from the Small Business Administration, Service Corps of Retired Executives, Baltimore Development Corp., Minority Business Development Agency, and Maryland Department of Economic and Employment Development. And it will offer free access to computers and databases with government information, market research, and the like.

The center, funded by donations of at least $150,000 apiece from Bell Atlantic Corp. and NationsBank, "will be the general store with the potbellied stove where you can gather to get data you can't get on your own," said Philip Lader, administrator of the Small Business Administration.

The office is important because while small businesses dominate the Maryland economy -- nearly 98 percent of the approximately 239,000 businesses in Maryland are considered small -- they also have a tougher time. More than half of all small businesses fail within five years, he said.

The office will open for business on Tuesday. And in a few months, Mr. Lader said, the SBA will send additional staff to the downtown office to help business people who want to start or expand businesses in Baltimore's three new empowerment zones.

But there won't be any handouts, he said.

"Our job is to make sure the hurdles are lowered sufficiently to compensate for market [barriers] such as the old boy network . . . or lenders not making smaller loans. But we leave the responsibility to you to build your business, repay your loan," he said.

Baltimore is the second of 40 cities slated to receive one-stop small business centers, Mr. Lader said.

Most of the participants in the small business convention just a few blocks from the new center were more interested in their own business' problems, though.

Ms. Bacon, one of 178 participants running for the 20 delegate spots, said she wants to tell Congress not to allow sales taxes to be collected on mail-order items such as the yachting equipment she sends to customers out of state.

"Government is destroying the American Dream with too much regulation," was her campaign cry.

Mr. Berman said the reduction of tax breaks for business lunches has cut the lunch business at his Outa The Way Cafe by a third, and he wants Congress to restore the deduction -- and shift laws to protect rather than punish employers.

"There are hundreds of regulations protecting employees, but what protects the small employers? If my chef decides to quit on a Friday night, that could ruin my business for weeks," the ponytailed Rockville restaurateur said.

Anthony Fugett, who won his campaign to represent Maryland, said he was most concerned about making it easier to borrow money.

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