Maryland's 'lab gap' slows entrepreneur
Linda Collinson, a home-grown Maryland entrepreneur, has racked up a string of successes in recent months.
Last month, the president of La Crista Inc. in Davidsonville started shipping her line of "natural" skin care products to most Giant Food Inc. stores. In August, her line was picked up by the Cosmetic Center retail chain. She's even shipping her products to Hong Kong.
There's one thing in which she has not succeeded, however -- finding a way to manufacture her products in Maryland.
Ms. Collinson says she has been forced to contract with a New Jersey company to make her cosmetics because there is no pharmaceutical laboratory in Maryland that can make skin care products according to Food and Drug Administration standards.
The 43-year-old businesswoman would love to keep the work here, which would not only create jobs but spare her a trip to New Jersey every two weeks.
"It would be much easier -- my shipping, everything. I could ship to Hong Kong out of Baltimore," Ms. Collinson said.
With Baltimore touting itself as a future center of biotechnology, Ms. Collinson's plight highlights a nagging question: Will the industry bring all research and no manufacturing? That would be fine for Ph.D.s, but wouldn't generate many jobs for middle-income Marylanders.
A report issued by the Greater Baltimore Committee's architects' and engineers' committee last week shows that business leaders are aware of the region's lab gap.
Alarmed that a growing demand for "wet labs" is going unfilled because of the high cost of building laboratory space, the GBC committee, under the leadership of Albert M. Copp, set out to design a simple lab module that could be built more cheaply. In its report, the committee describes a basic design that it estimates could cut the cost of building wet lab space from $60- $150 to $30-35 per square foot.
But while the report offers a solution to a very real problem, it deals almost exclusively with research labs. Nowhere does it deal with the question of the contract manufacturing labs that can turn research into consumer products.
Ms. Collinson's Anne Arundel County company illustrates the potential payoff from having a manufacturing infrastructure in place.
The company got its start 10 years ago when Ms. Collinson, an elementary education graduate with no training in chemistry, decided to create a nonchemical moisturizer that would not irritate her allergy-prone skin. After finding a mix that worked for her, she went commercial. Working with a variety of plant oils, she experimented in her kitchen until she came up with an almond oil moisturizer that worked for her.
She started marketing the product at health food shows, andher breakthrough came five years ago, when Giant approached her and offered her moisturizer a 30-store tryout.
Since then, La Crista has added three other products: Oatmeal Scrub, Hydrating Toner and Dewberry Lotion.
For now, missing out on La Crista's manufacturing business is no big deal for Maryland. Last year's sales were just $500,000, and Ms. Collinson expects them to grow to $750,000 this year. With a full year of Giant sales next year, there's a good chance sales could reach seven figures.
Having passed the test with one big chain, La Crista is in position to sign up others. Ms. Collinson's working on that now, hoping to take the company nationwide. Assuming she does, where do you suppose she'll find the extra manufacturing space?
(To receive a free, faxed copy of the GBC affordable labs report, call Sunfax at  332-6123 and punch in code 5500).
Amster tuxedo store is sold to its manager
Leo Amster, a formal wear fixture in Catonsville for 40 years, has hung up his cummerbund and sold the business to Greg Philipowitz, who managed the Leo Amster Tuxedos and Bridal store for 18 years.
Mr. Philipowitz closed the deal with his old boss last month and has renamed the business Catonsville Tuxedo Co. The Leo Amster store in Glen Burnie was closed in July, and the Loch Raven Plaza store was sold to another company, Mr. Philipowitz said.
Visitors to his Frederick Road shop might still run into Mr. Amster, 75, however. "I see Leo a couple of times a week," Mr. Philipowitz said. "He still keeps me on my toes a bit."
Meanwhile, another veteran manager in the local clothing business also set up shop for himself recently. Brian Lefko, who spent 20 years with Sam Glass & Sons in Baltimore, now runs Brian Lefko Men's Clothier at 303 Reisterstown Road in Pikesville.
Reader offers ways to gobble more turkey
Two weeks ago, this column reported that W. B. Doner & Co. had become the ad agency for the National Turkey Federation and asked for suggestions on the 10 best ways to get people to eat more turkey.
The response was hardly overwhelming. It was more like one: Dave Toombs of Ellicott City, whose prospects of being hired by David Letterman look shaky.
Nevertheless, having discarded five "turkeys," here are Mr. Toombs' Top Five Ways to Get people to Eat More Turkey.
5. Have Thanksgiving more often.
4. Eat it without 63 relatives having to come over.
3. Schedule more football games for Thursday afternoon.
2. Give drumsticks as Halloween treats.
1. Put an "Instant Win" lottery ticket in the gizzard bag.