Businesses bloom with help from center Trouble-shooter: Small firms in Howard County can take a step in the right direction with the aid of Ellin Dize.

March 05, 1996|By Vikki Valentine | Vikki Valentine,SPECIAL TO THE SUN

With a prized location on the Baltimore-Washington corridor, Howard County is an ideal place for small businesses, said Ellin Dize, a consultant at Gateway Drive's Small Business Development Center. And it's her job to help such businesses succeed.

In some fashion, she has worked with more than 651 Howard county businesses in the last year -- half the total number of businesses helped by six other such similar nonprofit centers in central Maryland.

For those working to start a business, Ms. Dize reviews the business plan and puts the prospective business owner in contact with loan officers, lawyers, accountants and others who can help make the dream a reality.

For those looking to expand their existing small businesses, she helps with marketing and with reorganizing the management to cope with that growth.

"It's exciting to talk to all these people with the entrepreneurial spirit," said Ms. Dize, who is the only consultant at the center and who spends an average of four to 12 hours with each client. "It's electrifying."

Howard County's center, which opened in 1990 and moved to Gateway in 1994, is one of more than 900 such centers across the United States created by Congress as part of an effort to encourage the growth of small businesses nationally.

The centers are not associated with any particular government agency but are funded with state, federal and county money.

The Gateway center works with businesses that are already in operation or those that are well along in the planning stages. It does not make loans, but connects businesses with banks that are willing to work with them.

To be eligible for help from the center, a business must be considered a small business under a variety of federal guidelines, said Ms. Dize. The actual size can vary widely from industry to industry; generally, however, small business are independently operated and not dominant in their field, she said.

A business owner herself -- she helps people Baltimore tenants in Baltimore fix up houses in Baltimore and move into them -- Ms. Dize tries to act as a trouble-shooter for small-business owners and those looking to start businesses.

"The clients I see are extremely intelligent, they're technology literate," said Ms. Dize, who has helped 48 businesses get started in her year at the center. "They are just very savvy about the marketplace and business."

Some of her clients are former employees from large corporations such as Westinghouse and UPS. Left behind in the wake of corporate downsizing or simply looking for a new career path, they seek a freedom and self-sufficiency that can be scarce in the corporate world.

Michael Putro spent 27 years as a high level data-processor at major corporations before he decided to start his non-chemical water treatment and electric air filtering business in 1987.

When the Woodbine resident decided to expand in 1995, he sought financial and marketing advice from the Gateway center. Ms. Dize's work included linking him up with University of Baltimore students who devised a marketing plan for him. That led to a $500,000 contract in Turkey through one of the students.

"It's something that could open up other sectors over there," said Mr. Putro. "It's a big door into those markets."

Michael Lanasa is another client helped by the center. The Catonsville resident is trying to start a bakery called Fresh Milled Foods, Inc., which will mill fresh grain and bake high-fiber bread in full view of the customers.

Ms. Dize put him in touch with bank officers and architects, and he expects to open his doors in Ellicott City by June 1.

"I feel that in this world today, there's no security in the job market, and I like being independent," said Mr. Lanasa, who in the past has run a wood stove business and a gift shop selling items with an environmental theme. "If you've been that type of individual, it's hard to go into a corporate situation."

Helping to get such businesses off the ground and remain in operation is the Gateway center's mission, Ms. Dize said.

"The networking is incredible," she said. "That's what I love."

Further information about the Small Business Development Center is available by calling Ellin Dize at 313-6552. The center is located at 6751 Gateway Drive, Suite 105, Columbia, Md., 21046.

Pub Date: 3/05/96

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