County chamber hopes nonprofit trust leads to increased funding

Effort aims to help schools, businesses improve work force

Howard Business

November 19, 2001|By TaNoah Morgan | TaNoah Morgan,SUN STAFF

Sometimes, it pays to be a nonprofit.

That's what the Howard County Chamber of Commerce is hoping as it develops a new trust focused on two of the local business community's primary concerns - education and work-force development.

The newly formed Workforce Development and Educational Trust will be a nonprofit entity separate from the chamber but growing out of the group's efforts to help schools and businesses develop a better-trained work force. Chamber members think funding from local businesses and foundations will flow more readily to a nonprofit organization.

"There were avenues for us to go through for money that were closed because we are not a charitable expense," said Ken Williams, chamber president. "We can't go to a foundation and ask for $10,000 to do these kinds of things." But a nonprofit trust, he said, will be able to.

The effort for the trust began several years ago with a federal grant for Maryland Career Connections. The chamber used the $10,000 to create several programs, including publishing the Business, Educators and Students Together guide, a list of local chief executive officers and companies that have agreed to help schools with lectures, internships and mentoring.

The grant money for the program ran out last year just as the chamber committee on work-force development and another group, the Superintendents Advisory Council on Business Education Partnerships, were discussing how to keep those projects going.

In the past, the chamber has solicited its members to fund the work-force development projects such as the job link Web site and reading and job-training programs in schools. But business owners were reluctant to give significantly to the chamber because they could not claim tax breaks. The superintendents council also presented a problem because it was not a legal entity, said Paul Skalny, a Columbia lawyer who has sat on both committees and is coordinating the trust.

The trust will contract with the chamber to staff some of its programs initially, Skalny said, but the group will have a separate board of directors. Eventually, Skalny said, the group might try to create an endowment, but at first it will solicit local business leaders and others to perform its tasks.

Williams said he hopes the trust will be a source of funding for programs the group has established.

"It could help support the chamber programs. It could support other programs in the community," Williams said. "We could also create a scholarship fund for Howard County students in critical needs areas - nursing, health care workers, technology workers."

Work-force development is an important topic in Howard County business circles and around the state. Business leaders surveyed statewide for a project by the Maryland Business Roundtable identified work-force development as one of the key issues the legislature should address.

In Howard County, the Economic Development Authority has identified work-force development as a priority for making the county competitive in attracting and expanding more businesses. The chamber has also created several programs aimed at preparing workers.

The Share Time and Read program promotes literacy at the elementary level; Americans for the Competitive Enterprise System gives teachers a firsthand look at free enterprise in action; and another program makes business leaders available to schools for lectures and mentoring. These programs were developed through the Career Connections grant.

Another effort aimed at high school students, the Passport to Success, seeks to help local employers identify students who have shown that they are ready for employment. The program grew out of complaints from business leaders that high school graduates are not prepared for the workplace.

Howard's is not the first chamber to develop a nonprofit arm to support its programs. In Maryland, several other chambers, including the Baltimore/Washington Corridor Chamber and the Hagerstown-Washington County chamber, have nonprofits attached to them. The nonprofit Maryland Business Roundtable for Education grew out of state chamber efforts.

The forming board for the Workforce Development and Educational Trust is meeting to develop bylaws and begin the application process for a tax exemption. The group expects to apply for the nonprofit status by early next month and gather its founding board by spring, Williams said. The group can begin soliciting donors after the tax-status paperwork is filed, he said.

"I see this thing evolving over the years," Williams said. "It can become a lot of things."

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