By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDBIZNews
The Governor’s Commission on Small Business has wrapped up the first round of its listening tour across the state after making stops in Southern Maryland and Frederick and on the Eastern Shore. Now the panel is planning its next stops as it crafts a series of recommendations to assist small businesses.
“The people that I’ve talked to, basically they’re optimistic that things are going to be better for the small business community,” said Ackneil Muldrow II, chairman of the commission and president and CEO of Parker Muldrow & Associates. “But, the economy is impacting them in many ways. There’s discussion on how much they have to pay for unemployment [insurance], government regulation. One of the critical things is access to capital they need that in order to enter into any sort of expansion or growth mode.”
Maryland has, in recent years, renewed its efforts to nurture and support homegrown small businesses, recognizing that entrepreneurship and innovation fuel the state’s economy. Small businesses make up nearly 98 percent of the employers in Maryland and account for more than half of the state’s jobs.
In January 2011, Gov. Martin O’Malley launched “Maryland Made Easy” to streamline regulations, simplify and digitize permitting processes, improve inter-agency communication and take other steps to improve the state’s oversight of businesses. In March 2012, the governor identified 131 obsolete or overly burdensome regulations for repeal. The state will soon move the Central Business Licensing system online, with the system going live in the first week of December.
Maryland also led the push for the Obama administration’s State Small Business Credit Initiative, a program that awarded this state $23 million for small business financing programs. The General Assembly and the governor created the Maryland Innovation Initiative to fund the commercialization of promising technologies developed at public and private universities, and the InvestMaryland program that in March raised $84 million to make venture capital investments in promising, young Maryland companies.
The state also got good news in October. Improvements in the job market have lessened the strain on the unemployment insurance system, meaning businesses will see cuts — many upward of 55 percent — in their unemployment taxes next year.
“Muldrow said he, Co-Chair Karen Barbour and their fellow commissioners will be exploring more ways to assuage business owners’ chief concern – a tough lending environment that has made capital hard to come by.”
“Many want to expand but they don’t have the capital because many of the financial institutions are not lending to small businesses,” he said. “They’ve tightened their standards to a point where there’s no latitude to take on many small businesses.”
The commission will also look for ways to improve workforce development programs and help small firms win more state contracts, Muldrow said.
“We’re talking about what creative ways government and the private sector can come together to provide resources to small businesses because that’s the engine we have,” he said.
Despite the economic headwinds, Muldrow remains optimistic about the state’s small businesses.
“I think, optimistically, we’re not going to get back where we were pre-recession days, but we’ll get back somewhere reasonably close to that,” he said. “We’ve got to look at life a little differently. How can we be creative as a people? How can we pool resources? We also have to attract people from other countries to buy our products. We have to do more marketing beyond our borders. I am optimistic, but we’ve got to work for it. People will do that. Pressure is going to push them in that direction.”