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Opinion: When it comes to new business, Carroll needs to stop thinking 'small'

StartupsBusinessBusiness EnterprisesBankruptcySmall BusinessesBudgets and Budgeting

The Board of County Commissioners, which refused an airport expansion that was 95 percent funded by higher levels of government, is about to embark on a fund to loan small business startups money at a rate of $25,000 per each.

But these must be businesses that already have been refused by a bank. Half the money for this "revolving fund" will be from the county, and half from the state.

Small business startups are a risky proposition in any case.

And, the current business environment is unfriendly. Also, starting a business with $25,000 capital — or even $50,000 — is a bit of a fairy tale.

So one hopes that the borrowers will have sufficient skin in the game. Otherwise, some smart operators will set up a business proposal, get the loan, pay themselves or their relatives a nice salary out of the loan ... and go bankrupt as a corporation after a time.

Banks are on to all these tricks. They also have staff trained in evaluation the likelihood of repayment.

Since one of the requirements for a loan under this new program is the refusal of one or more banks to offer a loan, I would think this program would be one of not picking out the best prospects — but rather the worst.

I fear the "revolving fund" will ultimately be feeding clients into bankruptcy court.

I hate to find myself arguing for Commissioner Robin Frazier's position, but I think she's right in this case in opposing the plan.

In my opinion, Carroll already has enough small businesses, most of them in retail trade.

Sadly, as soon as one retailer opens up, the chances are that it will help another retailer to close its doors.

What Carroll needs is some big businesses — with significant payrolls. It is, of course, difficult to attract a manufacturer or a software company of sufficient size to open a division here. We are in competition with every other county or similar subdivision in the country.

But Carroll has one major positive to offer. Fully 65 percent of working citizens in Carroll either commute to other jurisdictions to find work, and many — if not most — of those commuters are highly skilled in significant professions.

Want a skilled senior corporate IT person with a proven record of success? I have one for you.

Need a high level administrator skilled in government contracting and also in management in the printing industry? I have that candidate too.

How about a veteran corporate travel specialist? Make her an offer. (These are some of my children and their spouses, by the way ... though now I hope The Eagle doesn't bill me for a classified ad.)

A skilled workforce is our trump card. Money earmarked for development ought to be spent presenting our case to likely employers.

An expanded airport would have been an additional drawing card, but that train unfortunately has left the station.

Now, we need to have a booth at every major trade show in Washington (and there are lots of them, from electronics to the chemical processing industry).

That booth should be staffed with bright, articulate sales people, and should have a county commissioner available for some of the hours, at least.

Such a campaign would be expensive, but it is the only reasonable way to draw new industry and corporate campuses to Carroll.

In my opinion, the proposed loan program is just a way to waste dollars, both from the county and state.

And, the potential for fraud and corruption is too high.

Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun
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