Upward trend in business diversity

Area ranks high in female, minority entrepreneurs

April 09, 2006|By JULIE SCHARPER | JULIE SCHARPER,SUN REPORTER

Nearly two years ago, Laura Allen drove her '95 Ford pickup from San Diego to Anne Arundel County, toting a small trailer and a big dream - opening in a restaurant near her son, a midshipman at the Naval Academy.

Today, Allen operates a thriving Mexican restaurant in Severna Park. The secret to her success is not just her recipe for fish tacos and carne asada, it's the county, Allen said.

"I don't know of any other place where I could have done it," said Allen, who opened Diego's Mexican Restaurant in November. "I think it's a wonderful area to start a business."

As a female entrepreneur, Allen is part of a growing trend in the county. Among all Maryland counties, Anne Arundel ranks third for the number of women-owned firms with paid employees, according to recently released data from the U.S. Census Bureau's Survey of Business Owners.

Women own 12,790 of the county's 40,891 businesses, ringing in nearly $1.5 billion in sales.

The majority of these businesses are one-woman operations. Fewer than one in 15 women-owned businesses in the county have paid employees.

More than one-fourth of businesses owned by men have paid employees.

"All businesses can do well in this county, and women and minority-owned businesses are no exception," said Aaron Greenfield, president and chief executive of the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corporation. "This county is following a national trend in that there is a lot of growth in women-owned and minority-owned businesses."

Greenfield explained that the military presence of Fort Meade and the Naval Academy, Anne Arundel's abundance of waterways and Baltimore-Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport attract businesses to the county.

The Census Bureau also released a study that ranked Anne Arundel fourth among all Maryland counties for the number of businesses owned by Hispanics.

"When minority businesses and women come into the county and can function on a level playing field, they make a significant contribution to the entire community," said Ray Langston, chairman of the county Minority Business Enterprise Committee.

In 2003, Langston's committee started a phone directory of county businesses owned by women and minorities with 575 listings. Since then, the number of listings has nearly doubled, he said.

Small business counseling and a $100,000 loan from the county helped Allen's restaurant get under way, she said, but it's recommendations from Severna Park residents and her son's friends at the Naval Academy that bring new guests to Diego's.

"They're just so doggone friendly," Allen said of county residents.

julie.scharper@baltsun.com

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