Harford County's Economic Development Board talks 'angels,' investing and jobs

Lisa Smith, of North Star Innovation Partners, and John May, of New Vantage Group, gave a presentation to the Harford County Economic Development Advisory Board on angel fund and venture capital assessment, during the board's most recent monthly meeting Sept. 14 in Aberdeen.

As Smith and May explained, an "angel investor" is someone whose net worth exceeds $1 million and who invests in start up companies. Typically, these "angels" invest as groups in the companies and regionally.

According to Smith and May, there have been at least 10 angel groups in the Harford County region, with two or three morning in development.

"Big companies don't generate jobs in the community," May said. This is why creating early stage investments in Harford companies and using regional resources is beneficial.

"Amazing regional resources that can be accessed quickly," Smith added, are a key to helping smaller, local firms get off the ground.

Smith noted that many angel investors have been relocating to Harford County as part of the BRAC buildup atAberdeen Proving Ground.

To build the county's entrepreneurial ecosystem — components that help build the company, such as technology and education — it's important to educate and network with these investors, Smith said.

Where the county advisory board falls into all of this, Smith and May explained, is the necessity to continue support for the development of Harford's entrepreneurial ecosystem and to come up with action plans to further develop it, both for which the board can play a key role.

The action plans, they explained, could include holding networking events to introduce potential angel investors and attract local entrepreneurship events, such as seminars, to the county.

A few board members also brought up employment issues during the meeting. Harford still has a stubbornly high unemployment rate, despite the supposed influx of jobs tied to BRAC and other positive economic growth signs in the county.

In response, Director of Economic Development Jim Richardson mentioned the upcoming Wegmans opening in Abingdon (that occurred Sunday) and hiring at the new Kohl's distribution center in Edgewood being helpful in providing new jobs.

On the other end of the spectrum, Carol Stewart, from the APG Garrison Transformation Office, said the federal government will be "looking to cut [jobs] where they can."

A "bright spot in [Harford County's] economy," board member Rebecca Fitzgerald said, is that tourism in Harford experienced a 9.9 percent upswing in fiscal year 2011. "And that's despite natural disaster."

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