Drawing on the message delivered by the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. in his "I Have a Dream" speech, local businessman Lou Hutt Jr. says the county's color-blind business community serves to foster entrepreneurial success.
Hutt will take part in a panel discussion Tuesday as part of the Howard County Chamber of Commerce's inaugural "Fulfilling the Dream Through Entrepreneurship" event, which is geared toward marking what chamber President Leonardo McClarty is designating "King Week."
The free business forum — which is open to the public and will be held at Howard Community College — extends the spirit of the civil rights leader's stand on equality and opportunity for all races to small-business owners.
County Executive Allan Kittleman, Howard County Economic Development CEO Larry Twele and Kelly Mitchell, founder and owner of impactHR, will also join the panel, which will be moderated by Jetheda Hernandez of the Minority Business Development Agency of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
A motivational address will be delivered by Charles David Moody Jr., CEO of CD Moody Construction, an Atlanta-based minority-owned firm.
Hutt, an attorney and CPA who founded The Hutt Company in 1983, points to "a strong commitment in Howard County to hear all voices" as a stable foundation on which small-business owners can build.
"The spirit of the day revolves around inclusiveness," he said. "We all have unique challenges as business owners; why not host an event with a diverse panel that can share their insights about entrepreneurship?"
Having discovered his own entrepreneurial itch at Washington University in St. Louis, which is located in his home state of Missouri, he said he understands the obstacles that newly minted entrepreneurs face and how the business climate in Howard County compares with other locales.
"Association among socioeconomic groups is promoted here and that permeates the social attitudes of people," said Hutt, who travels around the country teaching financial management strategies and also hosts a two-hour radio show on Sirius XM on Saturday mornings.
"People of different races and cultures are comfortable here in all environments, and we are able to find common ground," he said.
Combining that color-blind approach with the county's location between two major cities and proximity to other regional economic centers makes Howard County "a utopia for a businessperson," he said.
"I still feel like a kid in a candy factory due to the easy access here to Baltimore, Washington, Philadelphia and New York," he said from his sixth-floor offices on Little Patuxent Parkway.
He recalled how he started his accounting firm at age 27 from the basement of the Kings Contrivance townhouse he'd just purchased with his wife, Nellie, who is also an attorney. The young couple had first moved to Baltimore in 1978 when Hutt accepted a one-year teaching assignment at Morgan State University.
"My wife said that we need to be in Columbia and told me I'd get used to it," he said, laughing at the memory. "I had resisted moving here because I'm basically an urban person. It was the best decision we ever made."
Hutt said he cannot imagine conducting business anywhere else, and the current Ellicott City resident calls the county "an ideal launching pad" for regional, national and international businesses.
"Finding a platform to market your business is 50 percent of the game — it's invaluable," he said.
McClarty, who is a Georgia native, had previously run the chamber of commerce in Atlanta before taking the reins of the county's 700-member chamber in November 2014. It was his idea to emulate Georgia's weeklong celebration of King with an annual entrepreneurship event.
"We want to celebrate King's spirit of togetherness, for he recognized the importance of employment opportunities for everyone," he said.
McClarty said that Howard County, and Columbia in particular, are attractive to small-business owners because the community embraces all minorities and ethnicities.
"It truly is a melting pot, and we at the chamber celebrate this fact," said the Ellicott City resident, who is African-American. "As time progresses, Howard County will become even more diverse."
According to the most recent data available from the Census Bureau, in Howard County in 2013 there were 9,000 establishments employing 166,000 people and 25,000 non-employer establishments, which are defined as those with no paid employees, McClarty said.
"One of the things that has impressed me is that we truly are an entrepreneurial county," McClarty said of these statistics. "I've been pleasantly surprised by the number of successful small-business owners here."
Kittleman said the chamber makes valuable contributions toward developing an inclusive business community in the county.
"The chamber of commerce serves an especially important role in helping new businesses and those owned by minority entrepreneurs" by offering advice and encouragement, he said.
McClarty said the aim of the forum is to make aspiring or new business owners in particular "come away feeling inspired and included."
There will be discussion of early-stage obstacles for entrepreneurs and advice on how to be successful, among other topics.
The event will serve notice, he said, that "Howard County is open for business regardless of where you come from and what you look like."
If you go
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"Fulfilling the Dream through Entrepreneurship," will be held 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. Tuesday in Room RCF 400 on the fourth floor of Student Services Hall at Howard Community College, 10901 Little Patuxent Parkway in Columbia. There is no cost, but preregistration is required. The event will follow the college's inclement weather policy regarding cancellations. Registration and information: 410-730-4111 or howardchamber.com/events.