Jennifer Jones is looking to expand her home improvement business, and yesterday she met the people who could help make it happen.
Several key players in a planned biotech park on Baltimore's east side told Jones and a few hundred other business owners attending the fourth annual African American Business Forum about the business opportunities the park would bring.
The project is expected to produce 8,000 jobs, millions of dollars in investment and hundreds of new and rehabilitated homes, city officials said.
Just what Jones' Adapt Home Improvement Inc. is looking for.
If she can get a piece of the rehabilitation projects, she could expand her business and perhaps quit her full-time job as a computer operator at Howard County General Hospital.
Yesterday, she passed her business card along to Joseph Haskins Jr., chairman of East Baltimore Development Inc., the nonprofit organization that is the key to getting the park off the ground, and chairman and chief executive officer of Harbor Bank of Maryland.
Jones also rubbed elbows with several other staff members who are working on the project.
"I want to get involved in larger projects to take my business to the next level, and this seems like a good match," Jones said.
LaRian Finney, owner of Visionary Marketing Group Inc. and organizer of the forum held at the Hyatt Regency Baltimore, said these are the kinds of relationships he wants to help minority businesses build.
"Instead of having speakers that just give a spiel, we have speakers that say something pertinent and are the key players in the business community in Baltimore city that can help these businesses with what they're trying to achieve," Finney said.
Lisa Harris Jones, a local attorney, spoke about legal issues businesses might run into. Councilwoman Catherine Pugh, who owns a marketing firm, talked about winning city contracts. Stanley Tucker, president of Meridian Management Group Inc., a professional asset manager, told the crowd how to get the financing to start or expand a business.
Tucker said people have to be willing to take risks when getting capital, even if it means putting up your house as collateral.
"The fact that they put up their house was a sign of dedication," he said of one client. "If you don't believe in your project enough to put something at risk, then how can we believe in it?"
Representatives of about 300 businesses attended yesterday's conference, which was also sponsored by Turning Point magazine, a California publication targeting minority businesses.
Conference organizers said they wanted to give minority businesses access to extra resources.
Minority businesses in the city tend to be smaller and traditionally have a hard time getting loans or other financing. Their owners are not always aware of loan programs aimed at minorities, and the businesses haven't played a major role in the redevelopment of the city, despite its being majority black.
"We wanted to go beyond the talking heads and give them information that can help their businesses now," said Patricia A. Means, president and publisher of Turning Point.
Gloria Mayfield Banks, co-owner of Charisma Factor, an event-planning, consulting and public-speaking business, received a standing ovation after telling the crowd during the keynote speech that success comes with working hard, having a vision and doing what you love with a great attitude.
"You've got to see yourself in that platform of doing something audacious all of the time," she said.
Organizers said the conference doesn't guarantee new business but can at least get a business' foot in the door.
Kenneth T. Brown, owner of the brokerage Keli Corp. in Baltimore, said he was able to meet some key city leaders, including Laurie Schwartz, interim chief executive officer of East Baltimore Development Inc.
"Now I have to do the follow-up to see if I can become a part of the changes that are taking place in the city," Brown said.