Cultivating small, local enterprise 'Mom-and-pops' seen as key to revitalizing Clay Street area

Generator of new jobs

Local college, Morgan State leading effort

September 27, 1995|By JOHN A. MORRIS | JOHN A. MORRIS,SUN STAFF

An impoverished Annapolis neighborhood is being targeted for economic revitalization by a partnership of government agencies, Morgan State University and Anne Arundel Community College.

County Executive John G. Gary said yesterday his administration should complete a plan within two weeks to cultivate corner groceries, beauty salons and other small businesses along Clay Street, once the thriving commercial center of the city's black community.

The effort will include screening of would-be entrepreneurs, advising them and offering them low-interest start-up loans, said Michael S. Lofton, executive director of the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp. (EDC). The county and city also could offer property tax credits to fledging enterprises in the target areas, he said.

"Money is the least of the problems," Mr. Lofton said. "The first thing you've got to do is help people decide whether they are entrepreneurs -- whether they are willing to take the risks, put all their worldly possessions on the line, work six to seven days a week."

Social scientists from Morgan State University and Anne Arundel Community College hope the effort will be a model that could be duplicated elsewhere in the county and state, Mr. Lofton said.

The effort, part of a larger push to improve the Clay Street neighborhood, is not yet complete, Mr. Lofton cautioned. "There is not yet a detailed plan put together," he said.

Officials have talked for years about the need to focus job training programs, drug-and-alcohol abuse treatment and police patrols on Clay Street, now isolated by government and commercial buildings.

"We don't think the answer to decaying, deteriorating communities is just to pump social programs in there," Mr. Gary said.

The Clay Street package could include a $100,000 incentive loan program to help neighborhood residents start their own companies, Mr. Gary said.

"We're saying, 'We'll put up some money. You put up the effort,' " he said.

The effort also signals a recognition of the importance of small business in the county by the Gary administration.

Mr. Gary said yesterday the recently announced layoffs at Westinghouse Electric Corp. in Linthicum underscore the need to cultivate the county's "mom-and-pop" businesses.

"While it is really great to land the big company like Westinghouse . . . the real key for us is making sure that our mom-and-pop businesses stay sound," Mr. Gary said.

Ninety-five percent of all county businesses employ 20 or fewer workers, said Rosemary Duggins, spokeswoman for the EDC.

"Most of the new jobs are coming from the small companies as the big businesses are being forced to downsize," said Arthur Ebersberger, chairman of the Maryland Chamber of Commerce's Small Business Council.

Mr. Gary said he has asked the EDC -- a publicly subsidized, privately run agency -- to focus its efforts on helping those small companies rather than "attracting big businesses to Anne Arundel County."

The EDC will receive $360,000 from county taxpayers in fiscal 1996, which ends June 30.

The executive's comments came during an interview with The Sun in reaction to the layoffs at Westinghouse. The company announced last week that it will reduce its national work force by 1,000 employees over the next year. The bulk of those cuts is expected to come at the Electronic Systems Group near Baltimore-Washington International Airport, which employs about 7,000 of the 8,600 Westinghouse employees in Maryland.

On the campaign trail last fall, Mr. Gary said, he heard repeatedly from small businessmen that government efforts to bolster business and generate jobs too often focus on national companies.

"I made a mental note then that I would not do that," Mr. Gary said.

Mr. Ebersberger, a county businessman who also is president of the Anne Arundel County Trade Council, said the small company's biggest problem is access to capital for expansion or equipment replacement or other needs. However, he said, the EDC already has loan programs that favor businesses with 50 or fewer employees.

Mr. Gary acknowledged that the county has aided small businesses in the past. "But we clearly will put more emphasis on it in the future."

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