Businesses aim to cash in on BRAC

Small-concern owners learn of opportunities at Harford seminar

May 30, 2007|By Mary Gail Hare | Mary Gail Hare,SUN REPORTER

Most of the recent conferences on the looming population influx from the nationwide military base realignment and closure (BRAC) have focused on the alarming costs of infrastructure, the critical need for more schools and millions needed for road improvements.

A discussion at Harford Community College in Bel Air last week highlighted entirely different topics: home and office decor, cozy lodging, and starting a handyman business.

Sherry Shiroky, a Bel Air interior decorator, said she could supply new homeowners and office tenants with furniture, flooring and drapery.

"We can do it all," she said.

Edith Brown passed out brochures about her bed-and-breakfast in Forest Hill.

"I am introducing myself and getting the word out," she said. "I don't think the military knows about me, and maybe now they will."

Vance Franklin of Lanham said he hoped the event would help his home improvement business.

"I am a veteran and just getting started in this business," he said. "I am looking for guidelines and hoping for a lot of work."

They were among the more than 100 small-business operators who attended "BRAC and Your Bottom Line," a conference aimed at giving small-business owners a glimpse of their potential roles in what officials expect to be the most significant economic development phenomenon in Maryland since World War II.

"Our mission is to help prospective and existing small businesses to succeed," said Renee C. Sprow, director of the Maryland Small Business Development Center. "BRAC offers tremendous opportunities for small businesses, and we are offering the information and resources they need to take advantage of those opportunities."

Center officials plan a series of workshops across Maryland that will offer such basics as how to apply for a security clearance or how to create joint ventures with larger firms, she said.

"We can show retail business where the new population will be moving and what are the demographics and buying power," Sprow said. "We are not dealing with houses and schools. We are dealing with retail and contractor opportunities."

Russell C. Teter III, director of the college's Small Business Development Center, urged participants to pitch whatever they had to offer. Local businesses should capitalize on BRAC, which promises to bring thousands of high-paying jobs to Aberdeen Proving Ground in Harford County and Fort Meade in Anne Arundel County within the next few years, Teter and other officials said.

Nearly 150 merchants, manufacturers and restaurateurs participated in the event that Teter called "halfway between a business card exchange and a vendor fair."

Kathey Hofmeier of Chesapeake Connectors, an electronics distributor in Aberdeen, is working with the military but wants to expand her opportunities.

"I came here to get the bigger picture," she said. "I am sure there is room for all of us to grow. It is just a question of finding the right people to talk to."

Tom McCuin, business development manager with Comm Wireless, a mobile radio service company, wanted to know whom to see at APG.

"We want to market to the new tenants and contractors," he said. "I know there is business, and I am finding helpful contacts here."

Similar conferences, funded by the state's small-business network, are scheduled in the next few weeks in Baltimore City, Baltimore County and Prince George's County.

"We are trying to do things regionally," said Nicole J. Katsikides, coordinator at the APG Regional BRAC Office, which operates out of the Higher Education and Applied Technology (HEAT) Center in Aberdeen. "Harford County is ground zero, but the whole metropolitan area will be impacted."

The office has established a good relationship with APG and with bases such as Fort Monmouth, N.J., which is moving its operations to Harford, she said.

"The idea is to get everybody thinking about BRAC and planning for it," Katsikides said.

Shiroky called the event educational.

"It gave us a broad view of what is going to happen," she said.

Sheryl L. Davis Kohl, president of Beacon Staffing in Aberdeen, learned about opportunities and procedures and said she aims to build business relationships.

"Sometimes, you have to go through layers, but here we actually met decision-makers, who can help us grow and be ready for BRAC," she said.

"BRAC and Your Bottom Line" continues from 7:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. June 7 at the University of Maryland, Baltimore School of Medicine Health Sciences Facility I, 685 W. Baltimore St.; from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. June 21 at the Sheraton Baltimore North Hotel in Towson and June 26 in Bowie (time and location to be determined). Registration is required. Information: 301-403-8300, Ext. 34, or www.mdsbdc.umd.edu.

mary.gail.hare@baltsun.com

Tips for small businesses

Apply for a security clearance. This is critical to working in many key areas.

Enroll on the Central Contracting Registry. To do business with the government, contractors must be registered and have established a legitimate bank account that can accept federal funds. The registry also allows prospective contractors to view a company's information and ascertain its work potential.

Go to www.sellingtoarmy.info. The site will link businesses to several key areas, including "fedbizops," which advertises all the jobs the government is soliciting.

Take advantage of resources, such as the Maryland Small Business Development Center in College Park, 301-403-8300, and its affiliates, such as the center at Harford Community College. The U.S. Army Research, Development and Engineering Command at Aberdeen Proving Ground also staffs an Office of Small Business Programs at 410-436-3349.

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