The Harford County Chamber of Commerce is asking local companies to sign a "Buy Locally" pledge, promising to compare price, service and quality at Harford companies before going outside the county to buy supplies.

"There are too many local businesses ordering their supplies from a catalog," Fredric M. Rohm, executive director of the chamber, said. "People buy from outside the county without really thinking about it."

He said 25 companies have signed.

It's impossible to know how much money county business owners are spending outside Harford, Mr. Rohm said.

Many Harford businesses are already buying within the county's boundaries -- when they can find what they want.

Some institutions and companies, including Harford Community College and Hess Hotels, said they must go outside the county to buy certain things, such as office equipment and some cleaning supplies.

HCC will spend about $2.5 million on goods and services in the county this year, said David W. Logan, director of purchasing.

For example, the college buys almost all of its carpeting in the county. "There is a good selection here and we can get good prices," Mr. Logan said.

The college will spend $1.5 million outside the county this year on goods it can't find here, Mr. Logan said.

For example, the county does not have much office furniture available, so the college buys from catalogs.

"It's the same thing with paper. We are buying pallet loads, and there are not [any] local companies that represent the big paper mills," he said.

Hess Hotels in Edgewood does buy some of its cleaning supplies from Paidon Products in Aberdeen, said Pamela M. Hess, chief operating officer.

"But they don't carry some of the cleansers we like to use, so we buy outside the county," Ms. Hess said. Hess Hotels operates the Best Western Invitation Inn and a Comfort Inn in Edgewood, and a hotel in Perryville in Cecil County. Hess is constructing a Sleep Inn motel in Edgewood.

Ms. Hess said the chamber's campaign is leading the company to rethink its buying policies.

"I've asked our purchasing agent to see if there is anything more we can buy from the county," Ms. Hess said.

Milt Beazley, a sales representative at Paidon, said he knows Paidon could do more business in Harford if more businesses would just think about where they are buying.

"We are a national distributor for companies like Fort Howard and Procter & Gamble, but we do only about 40 percent of our business in Harford," he said.

Making companies aware of other Harford businesses is the key to making the campaign work, said Mr. Rohm. As part of the campaign, the chamber is asking businesses to put circular "Buy Locally" stickers on doors and stationery.

The chamber also is putting together a detailed description of county businesses in its next directory.

The directory, due out in January, also will sell ad space. The chamber will continue to hold "business card exchange" gatherings to encourage business people to meet representatives from other Harford companies.

Robert Preston, the third generation to run Preston's Stationery Inc. in Bel Air, support's the chamber's efforts.

"There is this fallacy that it doesn't matter where you buy, that it doesn't have any impact on your own business, and that is not true," he said.

"If I buy from Courtland Hardware or Hirsch's Menswear, I am supporting my fellow businessmen and the money stays here -- it circles back to my cash register," he said.

Most companies make purchasing decisions based on price, Mr. Preston said.

Preston's closed its Havre de Grace office store about six months ago because of "devastating" competition from new national stores such as Wal-Mart and Staples, he said.

Wal-Mart, which has more than 1,800 stores nationwide, opened stores in Aberdeen and Bel Air about two years ago. Staples, another national chain, opened its Bel Air store in Tollgate Mall last spring.

Next year, the chamber will expand its campaign to include doctors, dentists, lawyers and other professionals.

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