When you meet LaTaunya Howard, it doesn't take long to realize she enjoys being around people.
She flashes her smile almost by default, but not in a way that feels contrived, and her demeanor and tone make you feel at ease.
It helps explain why Howard, 42, decided three years ago to veer off her career path in finance to launch Howard Corporate Centre, a flexible work space solutions business based in Laurel.
"I was at a crossroads a few years ago, and I wanted to do something that fed my soul. Not just something that got me a paycheck, but something I could be passionate about," Howard said inside a conference room at the center's offices, located on the third floor of an office building just off Laurel Bowie Road near Patuxent Greens.
Howard has poured her passion into her business, which provides temporary office space and virtual office space to a variety of local and statewide businesses in need of a corporate presence in Laurel.
The center offers a variety of packages ranging from hourly office use to more permanent spaces. Howard also sells packages that allow virtual businesses to list the center as their corporate mailing address and provides receptionist service.
Howard said her business, which was launched in summer 2012, is a better match for her personality than finance. "It was very much analytical, and you didn't have a lot of interaction with people," Howard said.
She added that her work also gives her more satisfaction because of what it offers.
"It provides an opportunity for businesses to work and meet clients in a professional environment, instead of a Panera Bread, Starbucks or public library. It gives them an opportunity to start off with that image and credibility, even though they are new to the game," she said.
Howard knows the challenges facing small businesses. In addition to launching Howard Corporate Centre, a small business itself, she also operates Assure Budget Solutions, a boutique financing consulting firm.
"I like the idea of it being a business-t- business model," Howard said. "I find it very rewarding to see businesses come in and grow."
Howard said one of the center's biggest challenges is getting the word out. "Surprisingly it is still novel to many people," she said. "I come across people almost every day who, when I explain to them this business, it's the first time they've heard of it."
Howard said that even though there is a lack of awareness, the business model has been around for decades and is employed by independent businesses and large corporations, most notably Regus, which operates 1,800 offices in 600 cities worldwide.
Howard said her goal is to make Howard Corporate Centre an international business, but is content with the Laurel location for now.
"It was important to me that my first location be in Prince George's County, and when I was searching God led me to this location," she said. "I didn't realize at the time how much of a blessing it was. What is great about Laurel is it is so centralized. ... There are a lot of exciting things happening in Laurel."
Howard, a member of the Baltimore Washington Corridor Chamber of Commerce, said much of her client base comes from Laurel. Among them is Laurel resident Ralph Hastings-Spaine, who owns a small insurance agency called Simplified Insurance and Benefits.
"One of the key things for me was flexibility," said Hastings-Spaine, who uses the office on an as-needed basis. "I think it's an ideal place for small businesses to start up."
Hastings-Spaine added that Howard is the driving force.
"When the guest comes in she makes them feel welcome," he said. "She really creates a professional atmosphere."
Edward Rodriguez, of First Outreach Solutions Group, LLc, has also become a fan.
"This was ideal because she provides a full service where we don't have to worry about anything," he said.
Rodriguez is one of Howard's three permanent tenants, meaning he uses the office daily as a work space. He said a key driver for his organization, a nonprofit working to help the homeless in the greater Laurel area, is cost.
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"This makes a lot of sense for us," he said. "If I was to start an office, I would have had to spend a minimal of $15,000, versus me paying $800 a month."