Growing Minority Businesses


For those who worried that Howard County's commitment to minority business development was shaky, the executive director of the Economic Development Authority may have put matters back on firmer ground.

Last week, Director Richard W. Story announced his choice for the position of business development specialist charged with working with minority enterprises.

Enter Patrice Hansford Cheatham, a former economic development coordinator for the city of Bowie in Prince George's County and marketing manager for the Fairfax County, Va., Economic Development Authority.

Ms. Cheatham brings a high profile and a wealth of experience to her new job, which makes Mr. Story rightfully happy.

There has been much upheaval within the county's economic development agency, all of which came as Howard County reeled from the recession.

Since losing its star director, Diane Brasington, three years ago, the office has had two more directors. Mr. Story was brought on board just as the office was transitioning into its new role as a quasi-governmental authority.

Moreover, the office was embroiled in controversy over the loss of Ms. Cheatham's predecessor, who was abruptly let go last spring. That firing raised critical questions about the support county leaders were willing to lend to minority businesses. Ms. Cheatham's hiring suggests things are moving in the right direction.

If there is one caveat about this news, it is that the parties involved should not raise expectations for Ms. Cheatham to an unreasonable level.

She is highly credentialed, but she is no miracle worker. Aside from the particular intricacies of minority business opportunities, business development in general is fraught with vagaries. A shaky economy can make the best economic development staff look shabby.

Minority business development, while coordinated by Ms. Cheatham, must be a goal of every county official if it is to be successful.

While it is encouraging that such a talented person has been brought to the economic development team in Howard County, she needs everyone's help as much as they need hers.

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