The backbone of any economic development and the facilitator of business: public sector financial programs. Whether they stem from federal, state, or even local levels of government, well thought out financial programs allow businesses to grow and prosper. The Maryland Economic Development Association (MEDA) hosted its 2019 Summer Conference on July 24th in Frederick, MD. This conference focused on the many financial programs available to the businesses of Maryland, and the dedicated people who make them possible. These programs are able to intertwine expertise in various fields to help businesses thrive, and when businesses thrive, economic development races forward.
This conference was comprised of three panels. The expert speakers on these panels discussed federal, state, and local tools that promote business development. Mayor Michael O’Connor of Frederick County kicked off the event by speaking about the importance of community and how public servants must work to “lift every resident.” The Mayor’s Chief of Staff, Margaret Nusbaum, grew up in Frederick herself, and emphasized the success of the county in cultivating emerging businesses. Nusbaum explained that a community needs targeted tools in the form of public programs and collaboration with stakeholders in the execution of those tools in order to function efficiently.
The first panel was comprised of three speakers who discussed many programs available to Maryland businesses and the role of local economic development associations and coordinators in economic development. Tim Doyle, Vice President of Communications at the Maryland Chamber of Commerce, spoke about the ability to tap into many financing sources. These financing resources include Advantage Maryland (MEDAAF), which funds grants, loans and investments to support economic development initiatives. Uses include business attraction and retention, infrastructure support, brownfield redevelopment, arts and entertainment districts, daycare, revolving loan funds and local strategic planning. The Maryland Industrial Development Financing Authority (MIDFA) encourages private sector investments with insurance and the issuance of tax-exempt and taxable revenue bonds. MIDFA can be used for land acquisition, building acquisition, construction costs, machinery and equipment, furniture and fixtures, leasehold improvements, certain eligible “soft costs,” energy-related projects and working capital. Doyle further explained the importance for economic development coordinators to understand a project in its entirety before developing a financial assistance package for the project in order to directly address each project’s needs. Matthew Heckles, Assistant Secretary at the Maryland Department of Housing & Community Development, spoke about its many financial assistant tools, including the Community Legacy Program. This program offers funding to sustainable communities, with the goal of strengthening said community through activities such as business retention and attraction, encouraging homeownership and commercial revitalization. Last but not least, Frank Dickson, Director of Strategic Business Initiatives at the Maryland Department of Housing & Development, spoke about emphasized the importance of opportunity zones. Opportunity zones, as Dickinson describes them, are “an incentive at the federal level…the incentive is for the investor to realize the capital gain and to put that capital gain into an investment opportunity… that could be a business and or project.” The state of Maryland has 149 opportunity zones, and every county has at least one. This means that there is immense opportunity for investment in Maryland, no matter where a business is based.
The second panel focused on case studies in which businesses were enabled to remain competitive in their market through complicated and collaborative projects. Amy Wallace, Regional Director of the Maryland Small Business Development Center, spoke about how SBDC loans help to kickstart small businesses. Steve Primosch, Vice President of Financial Services for the Anne Arundel Economic Development Corporation (AAEDC), shared a story of how the AAEDC helped to open the very successful JesseJay’s Latin Kitchen. The AAEDC provides financing, workforce training grants, marketing, operational support, and technical assistance in Anne Arundel, much like the other economic development teams in the state. John Genakos, Director of Development for the MD Economic Development Corporation (MEDCO), described the Southwest aircraft maintenance facility project located at BWI airport. This large capital project was successfully completed due to a group effort between MEDCO, the state, and other stakeholders. MEDCO provides financing solutions through tax increment financing bonds for transit-oriented developments and sustainable communities.” Neil Davis, Director of Entrepreneurial Development for the MD Technology Development Corporation (TEDCO) explained how TEDCO’s financial assistance typically takes on one of two forms: financing and mentorship. TEDCO provides a wide range of services, from the Rural Business Innovation Initiative, which assists small technology start-up companies in rural areas, to entrepreneurial resources which help start-ups to better understand and execute on business strategy. Once again reaffirming the common theme of the conference, Davis emphasized that TEDCO collaborates with all project stakeholders.
The third and final panel spoke about federal support tools such as Economic Development Administration programs and the Small Business Administration’s (SBA) financial services. Michael Harrison, Program Analyst/Coordinator for the Economic Development Association spoke about programs for distressed communities. Such communities can apply for loans through the EDA and U.S. Department of Agriculture. Steve McHenry, who works for the Office of Financial Assistance with the SBA spoke about the aging workforce, noting that the average farmer is 57 years old. McHenry explained that agricultural support is available through the Maryland Agricultural & Resource Based-Industry Development Corporation (MARBIDCO). This organization offers loan and grant programs, land preservation programs, partnerships with commercial lenders, and business resources, all directed at agricultural businesses. Panelist William Atkinson, Director & ARC Manager for the Appalachian Regional Commission (ARC), shared that the ARC is able to provide gap financing to businesses in need. ARC provides programs that aid distressed counties through tourism development and business growth. It offers a variety of grants and funding, including but not limited to start-up grants, project grants, and challenge grants. Linda Reilly, an employee in the Office of Financial Assistance for the SBA reminded conference attendees that “small businesses” are defined as having under 500 employees. Many small businesses don’t realize that they are small enough to be eligible for the SBA’s programs, which provides resources for small business owners that include guaranteed business loans, federal government contracting, and free business counseling.
The clear theme of the conference was the role that collaboration between the private and public sectors plays in securing the success of business initiatives. There is a link between proper economic development and a thriving community, and collaboration between the public and private sectors strengthens that link. One other program that provides a public and private benefit is the Maryland Property Assessed Clean Energy (MD-PACE) financing program. MD-PACE enables energy efficiency upgrades to commercial properties through private sector loans that are repaid on the property tax bill.
Learn more about MD-PACE and the many other resources available to businesses in MD by clicking on the links in the article. Or, contact MD-PACE today: firstname.lastname@example.org