Archives For November 2012

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.”

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDBIZNews

Social & Scientific Systems, Inc.’s headquarters and the company’s 300 employees will remain in Silver Spring for at least a decade, according to a deal announced Wednesday by the state Department of Business and Economic Development.

“By working with the leadership of Social & Scientific Systems and Montgomery County to retain the company’s operations here, we are preserving 300 highly-skilled jobs and ensuring that this cutting-edge company continues to call Maryland home,” said DBED Secretary Christian Johansson.

County Executive Isiah “Ike” Leggett said the company is a “vital component to ensuring the continued growth and success of our local business community.”

DBED provided the company with a $650,000 conditional loan and Montgomery County, a $350,000 grant, both conditioned on the company staying put through 2023 and maintaining a staff of at least 300 in Silver Spring. The financial assistance will help the company renew its lease on its office space

Social & Scientific Systems is an employee-owned public health company that provides technical, research, and program management services to government and other clients to mitigate the effects of HIV/AIDS and other deadly diseases.

Founded in 1978, the company has supported clinical trials around the world, providing program monitoring and evaluation services, collecting epidemiological data, coordinating conferences, and analyzing Medicare data. Today, the company has more than 500 employees in offices in Silver Spring; Rockville; Durham, North Carolina; Jakarta, Indonesia; Kigali, Rwanda; and Kampala, Uganda.

“We would like to thank the State and Montgomery County for the assistance they’re providing our company,” said President and CEO James J. Lynch, PhD. “We have been located in Silver Spring for the past 11 years, and are pleased to be staying, as our employees feel that they are a part of this community. We’re looking forward to a successful future here.”

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDBIZNews

Protenergy Natural Foods, of Ontario, will expand its U.S. headquarters on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. The move will add 100 full-time jobs by April and another 27 over the next five years.

Protenergy now employs 53 at its Cambridge facility, where it makes its soups, broths and sauces. The company is purchasing the 67-acre site and 200,000-square-foot building that it now leases as part of the $20.3 million expansion project.

“We are extremely pleased to be acquiring the facility in Cambridge,” said John Black, Protenergy’s CFO. “During the past year, we have invested significantly in the plant and recently completed the commissioning of two additional production lines. These new lines significantly increase our capabilities and capacity to meet growing customer demand for our products.”

The Maryland Department of Business and Economic Development provided a $3.6 million loan guarantee and a $250,000 conditional loan to assist with the project.

“It is exciting to see a forward-thinking company like Protenergy creating high-quality jobs on the Eastern Shore,” said Gov. Martin O’Malley. “Protenergy’s decision to further invest in our State reflects our strong support for growing our manufacturing industry and our commitment to working with our county partners to grow and retain jobs.”

Bith Energy, of Baltimore, has proposed a 50- to 60-acre solar farm on Nixon’s Farm in West Friendship, Howard County, according to The Sun.

The project needs a change to county zoning regulations to get off the ground. The amended rule is set for a council vote Dec. 3.

Montgomery County is considering making investments in companies in the county, according to The Washington Examiner.

A bill before the county council would allow the county to take up to 25 percent ownership. The legislation would add equity investments to the economic development arsenal stocked now with forgivable loans tied to job creation requirements.

Maryland’s horse and race track owners are nearing a deal that would bring much-needed stability to the state’s thoroughbred industry, according to the Sun.

The agreement between the Maryland Jockey Club — owner of Laurel Park and Pimlico — and the Maryland Thoroughbred Horsemen’s Association would guarantee racing days for the next decade. In recent years, as Novembers passed and Decembers crept by, the two sides struggled to reach deals on the racing days, threatening the Preakness, the middle jewel of the Triple Crown, as well as the sport’s very existence in the state.

Home prices rose in most major cities in September, according to an AP story in The Daily Record.

Thrasher’s, that staple of the Ocean City boardwalk, is getting some national love, according to The Daily Times.

The new owner of the Westin in Annapolis has big plans for the hotel, including more meeting space and other renovations, The Capital reports.

And, just because I think it’s a cool story, the Pentagon is using a virtual “town” to prepare its hackers for cyber warfare, according to The Washington Post.

CyberCity has a hospital, a power plant, a rail road and, yes, even a rocket launcher. (Check the graphic.) The 15,000 “residents” of CyberCity will use the coffee shop wi-fi and have bank account passwords, email accounts and pages on the town’s faux-social network, FaceSpace.

From The Sun:

The Federal Emergency Management Agency has announced federal disaster aid is being made available to Maryland to support state and local recovery efforts in areas affected by Superstorm Sandy.

The full story is here.

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDBIZNews

Maryland added 14,000 jobs in October — the second-largest employment increase since March 2000 — and the unemployment rate dropped to 6.7 percent, according to seasonally adjusted figures released Tuesday morning by the Department of Labor, Licensing and Regulation.

The growth came exclusively from the state’s private employers, which added 16,700 workers last month, a 0.8 percent growth rate as government employment at the federal, state and local levels declined. Labor officials also revised September’s jobs figures, estimating an increase of 9,500, down from the 9,800 originally reported. The unemployment rate in September was 6.9 percent.

October marked the third straight month of job gains. Over the last 12 months, Maryland has added 33,300 jobs, an increase of 1.3 percent. Private employment was up 35,500 jobs in that period, a 1.5 percent increase.

“Maryland’s dynamic private sector continues to prove that we are on the cutting edge of innovation and that our greatest assets are the talents, skills, creativity, ingenuity, and education of our people,” Gov. Martin O’Malley said in a written statement. “A new study released this week by the nonpartisan group The States Project ranks Maryland #2 in the nation for economic opportunity – a sign that the progress we make together does not happen by chance, but by the choices we make as a State to move forward by growing jobs and opportunity.”

Most broad sectors showed growth last month. Professional and business services — these businesses have fueled much of Maryland’s recent growth — added 3,900 jobs. Leisure and hospitality added 3,700 and trade and logistics added another 3,700, with much of that increase (3,300) coming from retailers. Health care and private education, another strong sector for Maryland, added 2,700 jobs in October and construction added 2,300. The financial sector added 1,700.

Maryland has added 122,500 jobs since February 2010, when employment in the Old Line State hit its recessionary bottom. The state remains only 18,500 jobs below the number in December 2007, when the recession started.

The state’s unemployment rate dropped in October because 20,977* more Marylanders held jobs than the month before, and the number of unemployed in the state dropped by 5,104.

*This figure differs from the 14,000 figure reported above because the jobs number is distilled from a survey of business establishments and the unemployment number comes from a survey of households. The difference could be accounted for by a wide range of factors, including Marylanders working in the district or another state, or for young, startup companies that have not yet caught the attention of the establishment survey.

Gov. Martin O’Malley announced Tuesday morning he will postpone the state’s planned trade mission to Israel so as to not distract from the “urgent cause of peace” in the region. The governor, business leaders, academics and government officials were scheduled to leave for the eight-day trip just after Thanksgiving.

President Obama on Tuesday dispatched Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton to the Middle East to hold talks with Israeli and Palestinian leaders.

“After many days of monitoring the situation in the Middle East, I’ve decided to reschedule Maryland’s Economic Development Mission to Israel,” O’Malley said in a statement.

“Not wanting to be a distraction from the urgent cause of peace, I look forward to visiting Israel in the months ahead with Maryland business, research and academic leaders.”

“For now, we join with our Israeli and Palestinian neighbors in praying for a cease-fire and peaceful resolution to the conflict.”

The trip to Israel would have been O’Malley’s third trade mission in the last 18 months. He took a delegation to China, South Korea and Vietnam in the spring of 2011 and made a post-Thanksgiving trip to India later that year. Those missions landed nearly $85 million and $60 million in business deals for Maryland companies.

O’Malley also led a trade mission to Israel in 2008.

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDBIZNews

We held out as long as we possibly could here, but it’s time to face the inevitable. The holidays are coming.

Thanksgiving is just around the corner — next week, you heard it here first — and more Marylanders are planning on traveling for the long holiday weekend than last year. The Sun reports about one in six residents of the Old Line State have travel plans. That’s still below pre-recession levels, but an increase over last year and more than enough to clog the main transportation arteries.

Highway officials hope travelers will plan ahead using the state’s online travel information portal, md511.org.

Baltimore/Washington International Thurgood Marshall Airport also has some changes coming for travelers. There’s a pre-screening program that could speed check-in times and, longer term, improvements coming to Concourse C to make way for growth by Southwest Airlines, the biggest carrier at BWI.

Skipping ahead to next month’s holidays, the Sun also has a very cool time-lapse look at the construction of the poinsettia tree in the Columbia Mall. (I’m told the wild techno in the background — or the foreground, depending on how loud you have your speakers turned up — is called ”Santa Goes Clubbing.”)

The (Salisbury) Daily Times has a story about bright spots in the Eastern Shore economy, including pharmaceutical manufacturing and businesses associated with the NASA Wallops Island Flight Facility.

Jubilant Cadista produced 1.3 billion pills last year and will increase that number this year, according to the story.

CoFoundersLab took the top prize in the Pitch Across Maryland tour put on by Startup Maryland. (Check out our CoFoundersLab profile from earlier this year here.) Woofound finished second.

Startup spent nearly three weeks crisscrossing the state in September and collected almost 170 business pitches. CoFoundersLab’s pitch can be found here, and Woofound’s here. See the full list of finalists and fan favorites here.

The Maryland Energy Administration is circulating a survey to gauge interest in renewable energy systems for homes.

The Sun reports that foreclosure filings were down in Maryland in the third quarter. Foreclosures were initiated on 1.2 percent of home loans in Maryland in Q3, down from 2 percent in the second quarter, according to the Mortgage Bankers Association.

The number of delinquent loans, however, increased during that time.

Radiation oncologist Dr. Mohan Suntha has been tapped to be the next president and CEO of St. Joseph Medical Center when University of Maryland Medical System takes over the Towson hospital, according to The Sun.

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDBIZNews
Dust off your business plan and sharpen up your elevator pitch. The deadline for the InvestMaryland Challenge is just a month away.

The Department of Business and Economic Development had received 95 entries for the business competition as of noon Wednesday.

The Challenge will award three $100,000 prizes to the top companies in life sciences, information technology and an open, general category.

Maryland companies can enter any of the categories. Out-of-state companies can enter the general category and would be expected to establish a place of business in the state and spend at least 51% of the grant money within the state.

“The InvestMaryland Challenge is a critical piece of the state’s efforts to ensure entrepreneurs have what they need to grow and thrive in Maryland,” said Michelle Jackson, DBED’s director strategic industries and innovation. “The prize money is important but so, too, are the lessons applicants will learn from putting their ideas before our panel of judges and the connections they will make with potential mentors, partners and investors. Those connections will strengthen Maryland’s entrepreneurial ecosystem and pave the way for more robust growth in life sciences, information technology, cyber security, green energy and other high-tech sectors.”

Applications are due Dec. 13 and awards will be made in March. Recently, the contest’s more than 60 judges met to discuss the competition. A few them shared their thoughts on camera.

 

Startup Maryland announced on Monday the top three “fan favorite” entries in the group’s inaugural Pitch Across Maryland business pitch competition.

Food’em, an online marketplace that connects food growers, buyers and distributors, took first place easily with more than 29,000 views on Youtube. (Views were counted as votes.) Survey Snap, a mobile building survey tool for architects, engineers and real estate agents, finished second and Pandion5D,  a GIS mapping and modeling spin-off from Washington College, took third.

Survey Snap had garnered 2,777 views by Tuesday afternoon and Pandion5D, 1,410.

The pitches and were collected by Startup Maryland during a nearly three-week bus tour in September. The bright yellow bus crisscrossed the state, filming 168 entrepreneurs pitching their inventions and companies in a makeshift studio.

The three fan favorites have been invited to pitch their companies at the Maryland Entrepreneur Awards on Wednesday. Videos of their pitches are available here

“More than 45,000 view-votes were cast in the three weeks since the Pitch Across Maryland videos were posted online,” said Michael Binko, co-chair of Startup Maryland. “From journalists and broadcast news outlets to active venture investors, the interest in the Pitch Across Maryland demonstrates how vibrant the innovation economy is not only within Maryland but in the broader mid-Atlantic region and across the U.S.”

Startup Maryland also put together a panel of entrepreneurs and investor experts to pick the top eight pitches the believe have the “strongest potential for high growth.” Those finalists are scheduled to pitch their businesses at TEDCO‘s Maryland Entrepreneur Expo Tuesday night, where a winner and runner-up will be chosen.

The final eight are:

The final eight will receive support from Startup Maryland and its partners.

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDBIZNews

The Department of Business and Economic Development has invested $1.1 million in three more Maryland companies through the InvestMaryland program, DBED Secretary Christian Johansson announced Tuesday at TEDCO’s Maryland Entrepreneur Expo.

“InvestMaryland plays a critical role in taking an idea from innovation to commercialization to company formation to job creation,” Johansson said. “Our investments through this program will attract significant follow-on capital from the private sector, create well-paying jobs and support a wide range of companies in biotechnology, cyber security, green energy and other targeted industries.”

Maxtena, of Rockville, received a $560,000 investment. South Baltimore’s Bambeco got $400,000 and PathSensors, located in the University of Maryland BioPark in West Baltimore, got $200,000.

These commitments follow InvestMaryland’s first-ever outlay, a $250,000 investment in Bethesda-based Brainscope in September.

“When we make strategic investments in cutting-edge companies like Maxtena, PathSensors and Bambeco, we are strengthening Maryland’s leadership in the Innovation Economy,” Gov. Martin O’Malley said. “With a total of $84 million to invest in the State’s best and brightest start-ups, we are stimulating our economy and creating jobs not just for today, but for generations to come.”

InvestMaryland was the governor’s top economic proposal during the General Assembly’s regular session in 2011. It set aside $100 million in insurance premium tax credits to be auctioned off to raise money to make venture capital investments in young, high-tech Maryland companies. DBED’s first-of-its-kind online tax credit auction in March raised $84 million, $14 million more than expected.

Two-thirds of the $84 million will be managed by private venture capital firms on behalf of the state and the rest will flow into state financing programs, including the Maryland Venture Fund, which made the three investments announced Tuesday. Last month, a 2005/2006 MVF investment in Fidelis Security, a cyber security company, returned $2.2 million to the fund.

Today’s Announced Investments

Founded in 2006, Maxtena has become a global leader in the development and production of miniature antennas for satellite phones, military radios, handled navigation devices, GPS trackers and other wireless devices. The MVF led a Series A preferred stock investment round in Maxtena.

“This funding award will support our growth in the areas of advanced antenna and wireless communications and will allow us to continue developing novel technologies that we hope will drive the new internet infrastructure with smaller and higher efficiency devices,” said Stanislav Licul, Ph.D., president and CEO of Maxtena.

PathSensors has developed a pair of products that detect biological threat agents in food and the air. BioFlash-E and BioFlash-AF rapidly identify pathogens in near real-time. The Maryland Venture Fund invested $100,000 in the company in 2010.

“PathSensor’s CANARY technology is providing rapid pathogen testing that ensures a safe and reliable supply of food products for the world’s growing population,” said Ted Olsen, CEO of PathSensors. “These funds will support the development of new products for the food processing industry.”

Bambeco CEO Susan Aplin shows off one of her favorite products, solar-powered Aurora Glow String Lights.

Bambeco is an online retailer specializing in eco-friendly home décor. The company is expanding, taking over more office and warehouse space as it adds to its staff of 24 employees. Bambeco’s products have been featured by USA Today, Every Day with Rachael Ray, People Magazine, The Today Show and the Emmy-winning sitcom Modern Family. The MVF invested a total of $300,000 in Bambeco during two earlier fundraising rounds.

“As a result of the investment, Bambeco is moving into a new 22,000- square-foot facility this month. We’re hiring people now and plan to double the size of our staff in the next 12 months,” said Susan Aplin, CEO of Bambeco. “The continued state support through the Maryland Venture Fund and InvestMaryland has been essential to our growth.”

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDBIZNews

As we are forced to contemplate a life free of political ads (for a few months at least), several Maryland newspapers looked at what the state’s historic approval of same-sex marriage will mean for wedding planners, vendors and others in the nuptial-support business.

Venues, cake shops and others associated with the industry are gearing up for a new wave of customers, reports the Baltimore Business Journal. The new law goes into effect Jan. 1.

(In April, The Gazette of Politics and Business looked at the potential impact of same-sex couples being granted the right to marry in Maryland. The Census estimates there are more than 10,000 such couples in the Free State and the Maryland Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce projected the law could add $90 million a year to Maryland’s economy.)

The Sun reports that New York saw a $259 million impact from same-sex marriages in the first year they were legal in that state. The story also has some excellent reporting on the couples and vendors celebrating the passage of the marriage equality law. Be sure to check it out.

The Annapolis Capital ran a story about wedding planners and others tailoring their promotional materials and products and offering special deals to appeal to potential new clients. A company that rents out luxury yachts for weddings told the paper that it has already booked a same-sex wedding.

From Question 6 to Question 7, legalized gaming tables will mean big changes for Maryland casino owners. The casino to be built in Baltimore will get the higher-end Horseshoe branding and $25 million in upgrades to the original plan, according to the Sun. It will employ about 1,700.

Maryland Live! in Anne Arundel County plans to add 100 table games and a poker room by the spring, according to The Washington Post.

Also in The Sun, Safenet, of Harford County, is spinning out its government solutions arm and selling it off. The price and buyer were not disclosed.

The BBJ has published its list of the top 10 Baltimore area employers. I won’t spoil it for you, but the top two spots are held down by a certain medical/higher education behemoth with a name that sounds kind of like “Bohns Popkins.”

And, good news, many of those major employers, and others, are employing. The BBJ has the details here.

The Public Service Commission decided on Thursday how to distribute the $113.5 million put up by Exelon Corp. to benefit low-income citizens, small businesses and others as part of its takeover of Constellation Energy. Baltimore city will get the biggest slice of that money, some $53 million for energy efficiency upgrades, weatherization and other projects, the Sun reports.

And in a bit of good news that likely bodes well for this recovering economy of ours, boat sales are up and boat sellers are more optimistic about 2013, according to The Capital.

By Nick Sohr, Managing Editor, MDBIZNews

Relax. Take a deep breath. Ok, now another one. Grab a cup of coffee. Clear those bookmarked pollster websites out of your browser. You won’t need those for another 3 1/2 years. The election is over.

So, what does it all mean?

J.D. Harrison has five takeaways for small businesses and entrepreneurs in The Washington Post. One that will likely be more meaningful in this region than elsewhere in the country — spending and stimulus are on the table with the reelection of Barack Obama, which could be good news for small government contractors.

The Daily Record has an AP story on the same topic, covering the potential impacts of a second Obama term on small businesses. The story looks at taxes, health care, the economy, federal budget and regulations.

Here’s quick excerpt on the taxes section:

But Obama has made a point of proposing tax cuts that will benefit many small companies. He’s calling for the corporate tax rate to drop to 28 percent from its current 35 percent. Manufacturers would pay no more than 25 percent. He’s also backing more liberal tax deductions for small businesses that invest in new equipment.

“Congress will be more willing to work with the president on these small business-targeted tax policies,” said [John Arensmeyer, CEO of Small Business Majority, an organization that lobbies on behalf of small companies.]

Recent history shows that Arensmeyer may be right. Earlier this year, there was bipartisan support in Congress for the Jumpstart Our Small Business Startups Act. It was designed to help small companies get financing more easily.

Businessweek reports that economic recovery is likely no matter who happens to live at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. for the next four years. The magazine also writes that investors prefer the continuation of the Obama presidency.

Businessweek also looks at the dismantling of the campaign operations, including the Romney jet.

And because it can’t be all about the election, the Baltimore Messenger has a story and video on the reopening of the much-beloved Mt. Washington Tavern.

A fire destroyed the bar and restaurant last Halloween. The year-long rebuild of the two-story, 10,000-square-foot landmark in North Baltimore cost about $4 million, according to the newspaper.

Baltimore’s Domino Sugar plant is working overtime these days, according to the Baltimore Business Journal.

The company’s refinery in Yonkers, N.Y. has been closed since Oct. 29, when Hurricane Sandy swept through the region. The manager of the Baltimore plant says production is up 15 to 20 percent to cover the shortfall.

Maryland retailers expect holiday sales to rise 2.5 to 3 percent this year, a slightly higher increase than the one last year. But, the Maryland Retailers Association warns in the BBJ that much of the spending hinges on federal budget cuts.

And if you have $19.5 million burning a hole in your pocket, you can afford your own sprawling estate on the Severn River. The BBJ reports a former AOL executive is selling the property.

The house is 6,000 square feet with three bedrooms and two bathrooms. Wait, sorry, that’s the guest/pool house. The main house is 20,000 square feet, with six bedrooms and eight bathrooms. The property also has a six car garage and six boat slips. SIX boat slips.