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Troubling trends for customer reviews

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Online customer reviews tell the story of your business.

When customers describe positive experiences and offer high ratings, they paint a picture of a trustworthy, dedicated and consistent brand.

Building a solid reputation requires diligence and patience, but sadly Better Business Bureau® of Greater Maryland is finding some disreputable businesses are using devious tactics to quickly generate a positive image. About 95 percent of customers read reviews before making a purchase. So, it’s no surprise we see shady businesses attempting to game the system.

“Brushing” is just one of their tactics. They send packages containing products Marylanders never ordered, using addresses found online. With the unsolicited package recorded as a “sale” the business leaves a “verified buyer” review under the addressee’s name.

As shoppers learn more about these types of deceptive practices, they become more vigilant in their research. Therefore, a portfolio of genuine, positive reviews is more important than ever. Here are three ways good businesses can leverage customer reviews for reputation management.

Share your reviews in real time.

Positive reviews provide meaningful social proof that you’re a trusted business, and they make for quick and easily shareable content. Consistently monitoring your reviews gives you the ability to highlight quotable moments as they’re posted.

Recent reviews carry the most weight because customers will consider them to be more relevant, so don’t hesitate to share positive feedback as it’s provided.

Find value in the good and the bad.

Negative reviews offer an opportunity for you to engage with dissatisfied customers while also illustrating to prospective customers that your business is committed to improving. 97 percent of prospective customers read your responses to reviews, meaning they’re equally as important as the reviews themselves.

Show prospective customers that you value their critiques, and you’re more likely to win trust and gain a loyal customer.

Expand your digital footprint.

To build a solid reputation, determine where your customers are likely to research your business, and think beyond the typical review sites.

Your reputation is made up of threads all over the internet, from testimonials on the top reviewing platforms to the comments section of your social media posts. Each aspect of your digital footprint contributes to your public persona, so be responsive, accountable and gracious. Remember to include BBB.org when considering your list of sites to monitor. Not only does BBB handle complaints, but visitors also have the option of leaving positive feedback for your business via customer reviews.

BBB’s Scam Tracker is also a great online tool for anyone impacted by a brushing scam. If you or someone you know needs to report a scam, visit BBB.org/ScamTracker to help BBB warn others about the issue.

Angie Barnett is president and CEO of the Better Business Bureau of Greater Maryland.

Southwest adds Sarasota, Savannah

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Southwest Airlines announced that it would add service from BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport to two new destinations—Sarasota, Fla., and Savannah, Ga.

Three daily roundtrip flights to Sarasota will begin on Feb. 14.  Two daily roundtrip flights to Savannah will launch on March 11. The new flights announced are the third and fourth new Southwest destinations recently announced for BWI Marshall.

New Southwest service between BWI Marshall and Miami started this week, on November 15.  And new Southwest service between BWI Marshall and Chicago O’Hare International Airport is scheduled to start on February 14.

BWI Marshall remains the busiest airport in the Washington-Baltimore region.  Airline and passenger recovery at BWI Marshall continues to rank among the best of major U.S. airports.  Recent data shows that BWI Marshall serves nearly half of the total passengers in the region.

Ball delivers Korean business grants 

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Calvin Ball

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball was joined by Maryland’s First Lady Yumi Hogan to visit Korean businesses in Howard County and deliver $22,500 in HoCo RISE Business Grants. Ball and Hogan visited nine businesses along Baltimore National Pike in Ellicott City, meeting with owners and awarding each a $2,500 grant.

“Diversity is a hallmark of Howard County, and our Korean-American community serves a vital role in contributing to the cultural vibrancy that makes our County one of the most attractive locations to live, work and play in the country,” said Ball. “Howard County is home to more than 12,000 Korean-Americans, and many live or operate businesses in Ellicott City. It was a joy to deliver these much-needed business grants alongside the First Lady, who was a resident of Howard County and continues to serve here.”  

The pair presented checks and met with owners from: 

  • Daall House Inc (Kim Bob Na Ra) 
  • IKKYU 
  • IS Manna Inc 
  • Pocha Inc 
  • WIBS LIC (ShinChon Garden) 
  • HKGDJ Inc. (Mannarang) 
  • Hanjoongkwan 
  • Uma Uma Inc 
  • Tous Les Jours Bakery & Café LLC 

To date, County Executive Ball has allocated $5.7 million HoCo RISE Business Grants to:  

  • 249 child care providers  
  • 202 retail businesses  
  • 146 restaurants  
  • 45 farms  
  • 21 hotels, and   
  • Three performing art venues  

Recently, Ball announced a second round of business grants for these same sectors and additional funding through Maryland’s Restaurant Relief Fund for restaurants. Businesses that received a grant in the first round, are eligible to receive one this second round. Businesses that did not receive a grant in the first round may apply at www.hceda.org/c19grants. The deadline to apply is 11:59 p.m., Nov. 29.  

CFAAC rolls out crisis response fund Phase II

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Photo by Adobe Stock.

The Community Foundation of Anne Arundel County (CFAAC), using $1 million in COVID-19 Relief Federal CARES Act Funding from Anne Arundel County, is administering this grant program to provide financial assistance to eligible nonprofits that sustained a loss of income/revenue and/or an increase of expenses due to COVID-19 impacts on their operations and communities.

Grants of up to $10,000 will be made to Anne Arundel County 501(c)(3) nonprofits who meet the criteria and demonstrate a need for financial support due to COVID-19 impacts on their operations and programs, such as cancelled fundraising events, lower than expected fundraising support, lost program income, or increased expenses due to state-mandated COVID-19 restrictions.

Applications are currently being accepted, with grants awarded on a rolling basis. All applicants must be Anne Arundel County 501(c)(3) nonprofits that serve communities within the county. Grant requests of up to $10,000 will be reviewed on an ongoing basis, until the December 15th deadline or until the $1 million of funding has been awarded. Expenses must have been incurred between March 15, 2020 and December 30, 2020. Funding must be fully expended by December 30, 2020.

Requests will be reviewed, and grants awarded as quickly as possible. The size of awards will be based on demonstrated need, as well as the volume of applications received. Grant guidelines and application materials are available at www.cfaac.org/phase-ii-community-crisis-response-fund-cares-act-funding.html.

BWI Marshall focused on health during holidays

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Photo from Adobe Stock.

Maryland health officials are urging residents to stay home this Thanksgiving season to help slow the spread of COVID-19, and have issued a travel advisory regarding non-essential trips outside the state. At BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, officials also recommend everyone do their part by limiting air travel to essential trips only and closely adhere to COVID-19 safety protocols if travel is necessary.

BWI Marshall continues to offer strong proactive measures to provide for the well-being of passengers. The airport terminal remains restricted to ticketed passengers, employees and those helping passengers needing assistance.

Face coverings or masks are required for customers and employees in BWI Marshall Airport. Passengers arriving without a face covering may receive a free mask at airport information desks; and hand sanitizer dispensers are in place throughout the airport terminal.

In addition, the U.S. Departments of Transportation, Health and Human Services, Homeland Security and State offer a web portal where airline passengers can obtain updated information on how to Fly Healthy (www.flyhealthy.gov/flyhealthy) this holiday season. The portal notes the experience as an airline passenger begins at home and offers advice on COVID-19 precautions during trip planning, at the airport, while aboard an aircraft, upon arrival at your destination and returning home.

At BWI Marshall, passenger traffic has steadily rebounded since the low point in April, when total passengers dropped 96% compared to last year. For the Thanksgiving holiday, passenger traffic is expected to be down about 50% from the same holiday period last year.

For airport parking, the Daily Garage remains open at a reduced rate of $8 per day, and the Hourly Garage is open at a reduced rate of $12 per day. The Long Term A and B lots, Express Parking, and valet parking are temporarily closed. The Cell Phone Lot is open, offering a free, convenient location for motorists to wait away from the airport terminal until contact is made with arriving passengers.

For more on BWI Marshall’s COVID-19 response, go to bwiairport.com/COVID19.

Ball reports nearly $6M in CARES Act funding

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Photo by Adobe Stock.

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball announced nearly $6 million in CARES Act funding will be allocated to the Howard County Public School System (HCPSS) to offset COVID-19 related expenditures for virtual instruction and lay the groundwork for safe and effective instruction moving forward.

The funding will support technology, meals for students, public health and safety supplies, and increased unemployment costs. Ball also announced a CARES Act spending dashboard that will track the actual and projected spending of federal funding as the Dec. 30 federal deadline approaches.

Schools Funding 

HCPSS has already incurred approximately $22.6 million in costs related to the COVID-19 pandemic. The $5.9 million in funding will support HCPSS in four areas:

  • $2.8 million for technology to support both teachers and students;
  • $2.5 million for public health and safety items for students, staff and facilities;
  • $400,000 to provide meals for students; and
  • $200,000 to cover increased unemployment costs.

CARES Act Dashboard 

In the interest of transparency, Howard County is launching a dashboard at www.howardcountymd.gov/Departments/COVID-19-Coronavirus-Countywide-Updates/CARES-Act-Spending-Dashboard to track spending of its allocated CARES Act funding. This dashboard will track the County’s actual and projected spending as the Dec. 30 federal deadline for expending all funds approaches.

Commerce unveils the Maryland Future 20

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Gov. Larry Hogan has announced the Maryland’s Future 20 list. The Future 20 is part of Innovation Uncovered, an ongoing initiative by the Maryland Department of Commerce to highlight the state’s talented innovators, entrepreneurs and growing small businesses.

The search for the Future 20 garnered 125 nominations from the business community and general public. The list was selected based on a variety of factors, including innovation, future growth potential, the company’s Maryland story and “wow” factor.

Local companies that are include in the Maryland 20 are Live Chair Health, Columbia, which created a booking platform that also integrates health care assessments with barbershop visits; Penacity, Hanover (Anne Arundel County), a cybersecurity company providing services to the private sector and federal government; ACTIVEcharge, bwtech@UMBC, a provider of blade monitoring hardware and software for wind turbines; and Silfra Biosystems, UMBC, which manages fish waste in aquaculture.

Also in the list are six companies that are all based out of the University of Maryland College Park: Airgility, which develops environmentally sustainable cellulose products; IonQ, which develops Quantum computing hardware and software; Ion Storage Systems, a technology company that creates safe batteries that enhance system performance; Medcura, a medical device company developing a wound care platform; pathOtrak, a biotechnology concern that is developing a rapid detection test for foodborne pathogens; and Resensys, a technology company with a wireless sensor network that monitors infrastructure systems against aging and malfunction.

Columbia-based TEDCO announced 12 of its portfolio companies made the Future 20, including ACTIVEcharge, Airgility, Medcura and pathOtrak.

TEDCO’s new CEO launches TEDCO talks

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The Columbia-based Maryland Technology Development Corp. (TEDCO) is launching a new video series, TEDCO Talks, featuring thought leaders in economic development from across the State of Maryland.

TEDCO CEO and Executive Director Troy LeMaile-Stovall will conduct thought-provoking conversations with regional leaders about the future of Maryland’s innovation ecosystem. The videos use a “fireside chat” format and cover a full range of topics, such as advice to small businesses dealing with COVID-19, available funding programs and benefits, diversity and inclusion, and more.

“This format allows me to personally connect with leaders during the pandemic and simultaneously share that knowledge with a wider audience to benefit as many people as possible,” said LeMaile-Stovall.

In these engaging discussions, LeMaile-Stovall will talk to leaders from a variety of organizations – including county economic development corporations, chambers of commerce and technology councils – about the emerging trends, challenges, and opportunities facing our region.

Among others, featured guests will include:

  • Renee Winsky, Leadership Maryland
  • Marty Rosendale, Maryland Tech Council
  • Kelly Schulz, Maryland Department of Commerce
  • Julie Lenzer, University of Maryland, College Park
  • Ben Birge, Anne Arundel Economic Development Corp.
  • Ben Wu, Montgomery County Economic Development Corp.

TEDCO Talks can be viewed at www.youtube.com/user/MDTEDCO. New videos will be added regularly.

Annapolis Town Center tenants revealed

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Annapolis Town Center has announced five new tenants, one of which is open. Under the guidance of Trademark Property Co., Offenbachers Home Escapes has opened in the 16,266-square-foot showroom that was occupied by Great Gatherings. It provides leisure products such as hot tubs, outdoor furniture and fire pits, that the company will deliver and install.

In addition, True Food Kitchen, which was co-founded by world renowned integrative medicine expert Dr. Andrew Weil, is slated to open late in the first quarter of 2021. Its menu is rooted in the principles of the anti-inflammatory food pyramid – emphasizing wholesome, simple ingredients with the natural health benefits in each ingredient.

Greenberg Gibbons has leased space to three tenants, all of which are also set to open in the first quarter of next year. They are the first Maryland location of PAINT Nail Bar is a 1,705-square-foot fume-free salon offering affordable nail services with an emphasis on providing a luxurious experience; A Taste of New Orleans is a 2,542-square-foot restaurant serving Louisiana-inspired Cajun cuisine; next door to which will be Nothing Bundt Cakes, a franchised 2,374-square-foot bakery specializing in Bundt cakes for any occasion.

Pittman aims to reduce sediment pollution

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Photo by Robert Jones from Pixabay.

Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman announced new guidance aimed at reducing sediment pollution from construction sites. The guidance, released by the county’s Department of Inspections and Permits, calls for more sediment and erosion controls on construction sites in advance of wet weather, and increased enforcement of all sites near the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries.

“We all see the water coming off some construction sites looking like chocolate milk, and we know that water carries pollution that harms our streams and puts our Chesapeake Bay restoration efforts at risk,” said Pittman. “This guidance is a common sense and targeted approach that simply asks construction crews to cover bare ground before the rains wash it away. It also sends a message that we will hold folks accountable for pollution to our streams and the Chesapeake Bay.”

The guidance notifies contractors and property owners that the Department of Inspections and Permits may require additional stabilization of exposed soils in advance of wet weather through the use of straw or wood mulch, or other similar practices. It encourages all sites to employ these additional practices in advance of wet weather even if contractors aren’t contacted by the department.

The guidance explains that these additional strategies should be implemented to avoid violating County law and causing offsite erosion or deposition of sediment. Finally, it directs inspectors to prioritize enforcement actions near the Chesapeake Bay and all tidal and non-tidal waters.

Residents can help by reporting suspected sediment deposition or erosion through the 3-1-1 app available at www.aacounty.org/services-and-programs/report-a-concern. Users of the app can select “grading violation” and submit a location and notes which will be used by inspectors to investigate the complaint.

The guidance is available at www.aacounty.org/departments/inspections-and-permits/blue-notices. Questions can be forwarded to Assistant Director Eva Kerchner at 410-222-7790.

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