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Home-based exposure On display: Maryland's rapidly growing home-based businesses shed their low profile today, opening their first trade show.

THE BALTIMORE SUN

An Oct. 5 article about home-based businesses misattributed statements about Legworks, a home-based event planning business. Patricia Garrity, one of the co-founders of the firms, made the statements.

The Sun regrets the errors.

For a growing number of working Americans, home is more than their castle. Increasingly, it's the factory or office, too.

Much of the boom in home-based businesses -- often attributed primarily to the seemingly endless stream of corporate layoffs -- has been invisible because no one has counted them, and

because most are hidden behind anonymous-looking residential doors and windows.

Many of Maryland's home-based businesses will emerge from their isolation this afternoon, however, at the state's first expo strictly for home-based businesses.

The trade show, to be held at the Timonium Fairgrounds from 1 to 8 p.m. today, is part of a drive by home-based business people to show their strength, raise their visibility, and address the many problems they face, said Milton Hunt, president of the Maryland Homebased Business Association.

There is plenty of anecdotal evidence that the number of home businesses is growing. Groups like his are seeing membership skyrocket, he said.

In just its first year, his group has grown to 175 members and aims to have 300 by the end of the year.

Mr. Hunt, who started a small publishing business in his home in 1988, said there are plenty of good reasons for the growth in home-based businesses.

"I loved it. For eight years, I had a 30-second commute every day. I would shower, shave, put on a pair of sweat pants, and go to work," said Mr. Hunt, who has since moved his business and his organization to a Canton office.

The growth has also been fueled by technological changes -- cheaper, easier-to-use computers, telephones, fax machines and other electronic gear -- that connect home workers with the world, said Michael Wiley, director of the year-old Home Office Association of America.

"There has been a decrease in technophobia. Even my mom, who used to be scared to death of computers, now uses one every day," Mr. Wiley said.

But necessity has been the mother of all motives for the home-based business boom, most agree.

Wave after wave of corporate layoffs have left millions of highly trained employees with few alternatives for making a living.

"Those people have to go somewhere. They are very talented but can't find another job," said Carol Fertita, who helps run a family manufacturing business and a network for home-based businesses from her home in Millers, in Carroll County.

And as those layoffs keep coming, the numbers of home-based businesses will keep rising, she said.

"I don't see an end, right now," to the growth, she said.

As popular as the idea of starting a home-based business is, however, many home entrepreneurs say they are struggling with a host of problems, some of which will be addressed at the expo.

Besides feeling isolated, owners of home-based businesses ,X often have difficulty finding customers, said Lois Foster, who started a home-based event planning company after her job at a Blue Cross subsidiary was eliminated in 1993.

The way she and her partner find new customers? "Networking," Ms. Foster said.

Ms. Foster, who lives in Timonium, and her partner, who lives in Howard County, each have joined several business, sports and charitable organizations in a drive to meet other business people, she said.

"You never know when you are going to meet that person who's going to need your business," she said.

Ms. Foster said she hopes that raising the visibility of home-based businesses will also reduce the stigma of working at home. Neighbors and family members sometimes regard a home-based business as a hobby, she said.

One reason her company, Legworks, uses a post office box address is so that corporate executives will take her seriously, she said.

"Everybody looks down on home-based businesses, like they are not in the same league as larger businesses," she said.

Home entrepreneurs say they also are finding that they are vulnerable to charlatans, and often make the painful discovery that a home-based business can't support them.

Mr. Wiley, of the Home Office Association, said his group has received dozens of complaints about business offers that turn out to be either out-and-out cheating, or full of over-optimistic promises.

"A lot of people get burned," Mr. Wiley said.

Stephen Gallison, director of the state-run Professional Outplacement Assistance Center in Linthicum, said he talks about starting a business with every one of the laid-off white collar workers who visit his office.

"It sounds wonderful," to many of them, he said. But he often tells his own story to warn them off. "It is not as easy as it sounds," he said.

Mr. Gallison said he started a ceiling cleaning operation in the 1980s, and loved visiting businesses and selling the service. But going into offices at night and actually cleaning the ceilings "wasn't for me. I'm a marketer. I didn't like the fact that I had to do the work too," he said. He eventually sold the business.

Despite the difficulties, for many a home business is their only chance of earning a good living.

When Tamera Swan got divorced and had to start working in 1985, she bounced from temporary job to temporary job, never finding a good permanent job. Finally, in 1992, she decided the only way she was going to build herself a career would be to start her own business.

So she started distributing catalogs from her Randallstown home while still taking temporary jobs on the side.

After three years, her business, Butterfly Inn, offers two catalogs and one self-published book, but the operation still doesn't earn enough to fully support her. So she continues taking temporary jobs, and she teaches on the side.

"It is hard. A lot of people have the idea that with a home-based business, you make a lot of money, but it is not true," she said.

She plans to keep plugging away, however, not only because there aren't any alternatives for her, but there aren't any alternatives for her children.

Her daughter, she said, just graduated from college and is barely scraping by on an $8-per-hour job.

"You would think a college graduate would get more," she said. "You really can't live on that. I expect her home in a matter of months."

Expo facts

What: The Maryland Homebased Business Association Expo

Where: Timonium Fairgrounds

When: Today, 1 p.m. to 8 p.m.

How much: $8

CORRECTION
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