Taneytown to attract woman-owned businesses Carroll Co. pilot program eyeing mentors, funding

November 08, 1998|By James M. Coram | James M. Coram,SUN STAFF

Taneytown is looking to build a national reputation as the place women go to start a business.

Officials there plan to begin a pilot program designed to attract women entrepreneurs and offer them four essential services: advice, training, loan assistance and office help.

It is not all altruistic.

"Women-owned businesses are the most successful in the nation," City Manager Charles P. Boyles II told a breakfast crowd of more than 70 local business leaders Friday.

"The statistics are enough to open your eyes. This could put Taneytown on the map on a national basis," he said.

The idea is for the town to form a support group of business and civic leaders who would "welcome you to Taneytown, help keep you going, help nurture you and plug you into government programs," said Nancy McCormick, city economic development director.

Years ago, most women business owners inherited their business, she said. But today most have held management positions in corporations where they developed skills that enabled them to dream about starting their own company, McCormick said.

"They are looking for avenues -- an atmosphere where they can adapt to their home environment and also support their growth," she said.

One of the things that sets women apart, McCormick said, is that "they know how to network. They are not afraid to share their thoughts and ideas with one another, bonding in such a way that one helps another" succeed.

Businessmen are learning many of those secrets and will join women in helping mentor the new program, McCormick said.

"We are one of the most friendly business communities there is," she told business leaders Friday, when endorsing the program. "We put in all kinds of players to work with people to try to ease their way. We want to make them as comfortable as possible."

An essential part of the comfort is helping women find funding for their projects.

"There is no good funding program available" for women business owners, said Ardene Welty, owner of Quality Utility Construction Inc.

Banks are often skeptical about lending to women, Welty said, especially if a woman is planning to start a business in what is usually seen as a man's field.

"We always have to prove our worthiness," she said.

Taneytown officials are looking for state and federal funds to help provide loans and help underwrite the program, Boyles said.

Welty is an enthusiastic supporter of the pilot program, as is Melissa Harris, owner of a Taneytown upholstery and refinishing business.

Harris "didn't have time to go serenade the banks" when she started Harris Custom Inc., but she knows the problems facing many women seeking financing, she said.

Despite her success in the past 12 years, a bank turned her down for a personal loan but offered it to her husband later when he came in with exactly the same balance sheet, she said.

Harris is "excited" about the program not simply because it will help women find lenders, but because it can offer "nurture, support, advice and encouragement" to women first starting out.

"The idea of mentorship" -- having people like herself work in tandem with other successful business people to help women just starting out is "wonderful!" she said. "I hope to be part of it.

"The big thing is [for neophytes] not to be afraid to ask what they may think is a dumb question. Most people will lend a hand if you ask. If you had a problem with an employee, it would be great to meet with a mentor group and learn to handle it."

Although she had no such group when starting her business, Harris did have "wonderful support" from McCormick and Michael Fish, business counselor at the county's small business development center. They are two of "the most important people we have for business," she said.

Fish likewise praised the Taneytown proposal.

"It is time for something like this to happen in Carroll County," he said.

Nearly one-third to one-half of the business owners attending the Taneytown business breakfast Friday were women, he said, noting that the percentage of women starting new businesses is "very high" throughout the county. Four of the five people he has met with this month who are looking to start new county businesses are women, he said.

Pub Date: 11/08/98

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