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DOG THRIVE EXPANDS– 24-7 care supports pet owners

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A couple of years ago, four friends that happened to be two sets of brothers – Matthew and Mark Stewart, and Scott and Tyler Parker – jointly embarked on new career chapters.

Some said they were going to the dogs but they are proud to have founded Dog Thrive, aiming to get a slice of the $72 billion pet industry.

Because there was a need for indoor/outdoor pet day/night care service in the Crofton/Gambrills area, they opened a location on Route 3 at Johns Hopkins Road. In 2017, they opened a second location near Westfield Annapolis (the mall) and are contemplating another location on Bethany Lane, in Ellicott City.

While boarding facilities are nothing new, “Our breadth of services, with grooming and training, isn’t the norm,” said Tyler Parker.

The staff is on hand 24/7 from June through September at the Gambrills location, which hosts “about 70 dogs per day. Annapolis hosts about 50,” Parker said, with costs running from $25 for a half-day, $29 for a full day and various packages; suites cost $75 for 24 hours.

Carmen Rustenbeck, CEO of the Colorado Springs, Colo.-based International Boarding & Pet Sitting Association, called the setup of such facilities “a market issue. The local population dictates what’s expected,” she said. “What you see in New York City is quite different than what’s offered in a small town.”

Rustenbeck said, “New Yorkers may want their white Westie to be even whiter, so they can order a blueberry masque, or request other options like special treats, having a story read or aromatherapy. One facility in Wisconsin employs a chef.”

Anything that can be done for a human “can also be done for a pet. That means opportunities for service providers,” she said. “The big issue here is finding certified professionals and explaining to pet owners why that approach is solid.”

Elisa Kamens, owner of Club Pooche, in Columbia, concurs. She’s been in the business for 25 years and was “the first person in the area who got proper zoning in Howard County to allow dogs in buildings,” she said.

After caring for two dozen dogs in her home for many years, she received her zoning permit in 2008 and founded Club Pooche, “That’s when the industry expanded,” she said, calling the Columbia market “saturated. I have 20 competitors, including [the Snowden Square] PetsMart.”

She accommodates “up to 65 dogs at $65 per day,” all costs included. Kamens said clients need to be sure to ask boarding facilities various questions about costs, kennel cough, sanitization, how emergencies are handled, etc.

There’s always plenty to know. “What this industry is about,” said Rustenbeck, “is understanding what’s best for your pet.”

Columbia Mall sold to new owner

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It’s been a busy month-plus for area malls during what they, no doubt, consider the most wonderful time of the year – with sales expected to grow between 5 percent and 5.6 percent from a year ago, according to Deloitte’s annual holiday retail sales forecast.

But now, it’s time to start focusing on 2019, especially after General Growth Properties, the long-time owner of The Mall in Columbia was sold to Brookfield Property Partners in a $9.25 billion transaction.

Representatives from Brookfield declined to be interviewed for this article. However, said Stephanie Cegielski, vice president of public relations for the New York-based International Council of Shopping Centers, said the net number of malls in operation had increased “during the past five years and mall occupancy rates remain high, at about 93 percent.”

To stay relevant, malls are diversifying their tenant base to appeal to their communities. “In areas with Millennials and Gen Z, who want more experiences, there are more food and beverage choices, dine-in movie theaters and escape rooms,” said Cegielski, also mentioning grocey stores and gyms. “Any turnover is quickly being replaced with these types of offerings, as well we formerly
online-only retailers who moving into the physical space.”

Cailey Locklair Tolle, executive director of the Maryland Retailers Association, said mall owners are focusing on creating experiences. “The addition of Dave & Buster’s at [Westfield] Annapolis is one example. It has a new food court, too, because they want to offer a comfortable environment.”

Events like a Christmas tree lighting, musical performance and getting pet pics taken with Santa are also increasingly important. “They make shoppers want to stay longer, like having a train for kids that runs through the malls or even a tram for adults, or offering phone charging stations.”

Still, Locklair Tolle added that she’s “not sure we’ve seen some struggling malls come out of the deep end yet. However, we are seeing is mall owners taking new approaches.”

Howard Chamber marks 50 years

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The Howard County Chamber of Commerce (HCCC) marks its 50th anniversary in 2019.

Established when Columbia itself was just two years old, the Chamber has followed a similar trajectory of growth and evolution alongside its home of record.

“When I look at the founding documents, they were done on stencil paper and typewriter in multiple copies,” observed current HCCC President and CEO Leonardo McClarty. “Now everything we do is electronic, it’s on a computer, submitted online and filed electronically.”

It was a time, he said, when the speed of business was measured in days, and by most accounts, Columbia was a sleepy town and Howard was a sleepy county that business professionals passed through on their way to where the real action was, in Baltimore or Washington, DC.

How times – and the Chamber – have changed.

Early Days

Ed Kasemeyer, former District 12 State Senator, served as a past Chamber president in 1980 and remembers the organization’s early days.

“We didn’t have a home or a permanent executive director,” he recalled. “We rented an office next to the Clark building for our monthly meetings.”

It was during his term that the Chamber hired its first full-time executive director, at that time a significant step in terms of expense and services when members still looked to each other for news, advice, business leads and leadership.

“Now it’s vibrant, highly sophisticated and focused in terms of the number of employees and their functions, and the depth they go to in terms of subject matter and skill,” Kasemeyer said.

Along the way, the Chamber evolved to take on new roles and become a significant player in the greater Baltimore economy, but still maintained its basic identity as a local business advocate.

“One role that hasn’t change is providing a way to get [members] substantive information to help them make decisions in a more timely fashion, which continues to add value,” McClarty said.

Meaningful Spinoffs

Along the way, HCCC has had a hand in creating some of the most meaningful quality of business life aspects the county has to offer.

“The Chamber was the original founder of Leadership Howard County,” McClarty noted. “It was an affiliate of the Chamber for a number of years and we were housed in the same space until it found its own office.”

In 1992, under the presidency of Orchard Development’s Chair and CEO Earl Armiger, the Chamber spun off another successful mission with the creation of the Jim Rouse Entrepreneurial Fund.

“The economy was coming out of a recession, and we recognized that more jobs were being created by small business than by big businesses,” Armiger said. “Our idea was to get the commitment of eight banks to put up a combined $250,000 to start a low-interest loan fund for startups.”

When the Chamber asked for permission to use Rouse’s name, the Columbia developer challenged the organization to think bigger and target $1 million.

Two years later, Armiger said, the fund had amassed to $3 million.

By the year 2000, the fund had provided more than $1,000,000 in funding, leading to the creation of more than 250 new local jobs.

The Chamber also played a small but important role in the start of the Howard County Economic Development Authority (HCEDA) in 1992.

Dyan Brasington, now executive vice president for Economic Development for the Miami-Dade Beacon Council, led the HCEDA from its existence as a small county organization to its inception as a stand-alone authority.

“We consulted with many other economic development organizations, and the Chamber was very much a part of the conversations we were having,” she said. “Its leaders helped inform our decision making.”

Milestone Events

These days, the Chamber’s role also extends to helping partners in education, and it serves the government contracting community by continuing to refine its GovConnects program.

To mark the milestone, the Chamber plans to introduce the anniversary theme into events that it already has in place, rather than create stand-alone events that compete for attention.

“Our annual signature event, typically held the first Friday in October, will be a Saturday event and a black tie gala,” McClarty said. “We’ll plan to do something special with our annual meeting in May.”

SEXUAL HARASSMENT–What will it cost your business this year?

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Sexual harassment prevention in the workplace has been getting a lot of attention – both in the news and in business.

After offering training on sexual harassment prevention for many years, the Maryland Commission on Civil Rights has noticed a large uptick in interest this year, not only from state employees who are required by law to complete such training, but from the private sector, too.

“While we have seen a large number of sexual harassment complaints come in, we’ve also seen more employers reaching out to get ahead of it,” said Spencer Dove, an executive associate with the commission.

What if employers ignore it? Your business potentially faces not only the cost of a lawsuit, but deeper-gouging costs related to retention and recruitment of staff and a tarnished reputation that repels customers.

As much has sexual harassment has captured the headlines this year, it’s hard to pin a price tag on it, though everyone from human resources experts to the U.S Senate to human rights advocates are calling for more research on what those costs might be. Clearly, the costs are mounting.

A 1988 survey, answered by personnel and human resources directors and equal opportunity offices representing 3.3 million employees at 160 corporations, found that a typical Fortune 500 company lost $6.7 million a year because of absenteeism, low productivity and staff turnover as a result of sexual harassment.

In 1994, the Merit Systems Protection Board estimated that, over the course of two years, sexual harassment in the federal workforce cost the government a total of $327.1 million as a result of job turnover, sick leave, and decreased productivity.

In 2017, the human resources consulting firm ERC estimated that, assuming that a sexual harassment claim is settled out of court, the average cost to an organization runs anywhere from $75,000 to $125,000.

How can businesses avoid these costs?

Eileen Levitt, president of the Columbia-based The HR Team, Inc., recommends three steps: have a policy, follow that policy, and train your managers and employees.

If this sounds over-simplified, ask yourself what your company’s policy on sexual harassment is and what it means. Is it something you blindly signed online, perhaps after sitting through a slide presentation and checking a box?

That type of training doesn’t work, agreed Levitt and many others in the field. “The reality is that we have to change behaviors,” said Levitt. “As an organization, we have to hire people that have behaviors we want to emulate.”

Nurturing a healthy workplace

Instead of thinking of sexual harassment as a hopelessly inevitable fact of office life, start thinking about a mindful approach to developing your team’s capacity to prevent harassment in the first place, suggested Sarah Rowell, CEO of Kantola Training Solutions, a company that has trained more than 13,000 organizations in sexual harassment prevention in the last five years.

Look at it more like an investment in your organization’s immune system,” Rowell said. “Take that preventive approach right up front.”

Kantola uses story-based training that, through sophisticated instructional design, truly puts people in each other’s shoes. One of the many important concepts Kantola focuses on is “bystander intervention,” or ways to support your coworkers when you witness harassing behavior.

The key to good training is real-life scenarios, agreed Tara Taylor, director of Education & Outreach for the Maryland Commission On Civil Rights. Taylor also recommends having clear timeframes in policies that outline when a response to a complaint should be expected. “Most state agencies have to investigate and respond within 30 days,” she said. “But private businesses and nonprofits don’t always have a clear timeframe.”

A common mistake by employers is retaliation against the alleged victim for complaining, Taylor added. “Sometimes employers are unconsciously retaliating,” she explained. An example? Moving alleged victims away to another job or another location to “protect” them.

Finally, Taylor said, if you have never received a complaint of any kind related to sexual harassment, ask yourself: do people feel comfortable complaining?

A new era

Sexual harassment has been around a long time, pointed out Amy Polefrone, president and CEO of the HR Strategy Group in Ellicott City. “It’s illegal under the Civil Rights Act of 1964, Title VII,” she said. Yet, until comparatively recently, sexual harassment prevention training was a “check-the-box” routine.

At its heart, good training should be about gathering people together to answer a positive question: what kind of workplace do we want to have?

As the millennial generation and younger generations enter the workforce, they are increasingly choosing workplaces in which harassment of any kind is unacceptable. And, perhaps in part due to anti-bullying training they’ve had in their school years, this generation is proficient at identifying and combating harassment on the spot.

“Readiness training” in sexual harassment prevention seems key to creating a team that protects each other. It’s time, said Polefrone: “Dust off your policy, and ask yourself: how do we respond?”

Is Maryland ready for the sports betting game?

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West Virginia, Pennsylvania and Delaware have voted sports gaming into law.

Maryland, the District of Columbia and Virginia have not.

Those last three facts will be under discussion when the next legislative session starts at noon on Jan 9, in Annapolis.

Session 2019 will come after the House passed a bill to allow sports gaming in Maryland, but the Senate did not; and on the heels of a recent Washington Post-University of Maryland poll that revealed that, while voters likely will have to wait at two years to decide whether to legalize sports gambling, 53 percent of registered voters favor doing so (with 37 percent opposed and 10 percent having no opinion).

D.C. and Virginia are also making noise about legalizing gambling, period; but even if sports gaming is approved in both states and the District, it won’t result in a huge windfall, as was the case with the approval of slots.

Where we are today,” said Frank Turner, recently retired delegate from District 13, who sponsored the sports gaming bill last session, “is in limbo. I haven’t seen a bill put in for the upcoming session, but it’s likely one will be. Then the question becomes, ‘Will there be an agreement between the House and the Senate as to what the bill will look like?’ ”

Last year, the House wanted sports gaming at the only wanted it at casinos. “That’s the hang up,” Turner said, “and I don’t think either side is rushing to take a position, since it can’t come into play until 2020, when it has to go to referendum”

As for what legalization would mean for Maryland, Turner said in Las Vegas sports gaming only accounts for “5 percent to 6 percent” of gambling revenues, “so I don’t think it would be the kind of windfall people might assume it would be.”

The state gets about $1.4 billion from casinos and $1 billion from the lottery, he said. “Sports betting won’t stop that.”

The deal today, he said, is that “people who really want this are very vocal, and they don’t want to drive [out of state] or go to Vegas to get it.”

While Maryland has come to the gaming party later than other states, Turner isn’t sure that’s a bad thing.

“People complained about how late we got into gaming here, but Maryland is far ahead of other states in [gambling] revenues,” he said. “Much of that is to do with D.C. and Virginia not having it. We even get people from North Carolina who come here and sightsee, too.”

Three Points

Jeffrey Hooke is managing director of Hooke Associates, of McLean, Va., and a senior lecturer with The Johns Hopkins University, and he thinks enabling legislation will occur by mid-2019. “Maryland almost got there last time,” he said, offering three issues to contemplate until then.

First the legislature “must address whether they will give away licenses for free, as most states do and as happens with casino licenses, or sell them to large corporations. They have a market and are worth millions. The state must address that point from a taxpayer point of view.”

Next, the state “will need a regulatory system” to police illegal conduct, such as inside information, bribes, and so on. “How are bettors being screened?,” he said. “Other states haven’t put much effort into monitoring the integrity function.”

Lastly, the 75-year-old Wire Act, a federal law that prohibits information sharing on national level for horse racing, “needs to be updated, since it restricts the sharing of betting patterns across states. The immediate goal here,” said Hooke, “is to legalize sports gaming in every state, give away the licenses for free and try to have a low betting tax rate – then establish the integrity system on the state level.”

Nationally, 10 states have authorized sports betting and approximately 20 others are pursuing authorizing legislation, which is not lost on Joe Weinberg, CEO of Cordish Global Gaming, which runs Live! Casino, in Hanover.

“Maryland, with one of the smallest populations in the U.S., has the fourth highest gaming tax collections in the country, with more than $3.5 billion to date,” he said. “It is important that Maryland casinos continue to have the ability to offer a full suite of products to remain competitive with surrounding states which already offer, or will shortly, allow sports betting.”

‘Volatile Market’

That “could well happen in 2020,” said Jennifer Roberts, associate director at the International Gaming Institute at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.

“What’s going on in the mid-Atlantic is like the Mississippi-Louisiana relationship, where residents of Louisiana gamble on sports in Mississippi,” she said. “The politicians of Louisiana would rather have their people gamble on sports in state.”

Roberts also said the revenues would not amount to as much as people think, however. “For instance, before the last Super Bowl (LII), customers at the 198 sports books in Nevada wagered $158 million – combined, they made $1.17 million. That was it,” she said, though noting that other Super Bowls “made much more money. It’s a volatile market.”

So, don’t expect the earnings in Maryland or anywhere else to pay for new schools, roads or bridges. “But it will add to employment and keep some money in the state,” she said.
Revenue Plus

While Turner would “like to see agreement between the Senate and House,” there won’t be any pressure this year to get it done.

In addition, he said, the state has a $1 billion surplus in revenue, “so there’s no pressure to raise more money. There will be in a couple of years, because educational bills need financing and prescription drugs for retired state employees need funding,” he said, “plus the economy could [weaken].”

With Turner retired, the point man for a bill will be Del. Eric Ebersole (District12, Howard and Baltimore counties), subcommittee chair for finance resources in the Ways and Means Committee, the umbrella group for all gaming interests. He agrees that it’s hard to ignore any extra money that sports gaming would generate, as well as a new synergy it would provide for the overall gaming market.

“Many people will be looking forward to the additional financial resources,” said Ebersole, noting it could be directed to making community colleges debt free, 3-4 year old pre-kindergarten, school construction, etc.

“There would be,” he said, “plenty of places to spend it.”

 

Call for nominations for education award

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Nominations are being accepted for the 2019 Friends of Education Award. The award was established by the Howard County Board of Education to increase awareness of the importance of community involvement to the achievement of the school system’s Strategic Call to Action (SCTA) plan.

The nomination deadline is Feb. 1. Nominees and recipients will be notified by March 15 and awards will be presented at the April 11 Board of Education meeting. Nominations can be submitted online or by calling 410-313-1584. Find more information, visit www.hcpss.org/board/friends-of-education.

Preschool/Child Care fair set for Jan. 27

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The 2019 Preschool/Child Care Information Fair, Children On Board, will provide parents, guardians, grandparents and child care personnel with one-stop shopping for information on child care, pre-school and summer programs, as well as the opportunity for personal contact with teachers and program directors. The event will be presented at Ten Oaks Ballroom, Clarksville, on Sunday, Jan. 27, from 1– 4 p.m.

Admission is free. Attendees are asked to bring a nonperishable food item or unopened diapers to donate to the Howard County Food Bank. The 2019 Parent’s Guide to Howard County will be distributed at the event free of charge. For more information, call 410-313-1940, e-mail children@howardcountymd.gov or visit https://www.howardcountymd.gov/Departments/Community-Resources-and-Services/Office-of-Children-and-Families/Events/Children-On-Board-Child-Care-and-Preschool-Fair.

MBX to host Chili & Coat Drive Jan. 10

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The Maryland Business Connection (MBX) will kick off 2019 with its Mega Networking Kick-Off Party Chili Showcase & Coat Drive on Thursday, Jan. 10, from 4 to 8 p.m., at Michael’s Eighth Avenue, in Glen Burnie.

In addition to networking with approximately 400 business people, the event will feature chili samples from local restaurants and caterers, including Michael’s Eighth Avenue, Food by Fire Catering, Brews & Cues on the Boulevard, and Dorina’s Kitchen; local brew and wine samples; etc. Guests are encouraged to bring new or gently-used coats, sweaters, hats, scarves, gloves, etc. for local families being assisted by the Anne Arundel County Food Bank and Resource Center. At last year’s event, MBX collected more 350 coats.

Visit www.ChiliShowcase.com to register. For more information, call 410-562-5354 or email doug@mdbizconnect.com.

Annapolis Day set for Jan. 30

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The Maryland Tech Council’s (MTC) Annapolis Day and Leadership Dinner will take place on Jan. 30. The day-long event will start at 8 a.m. at Lowe House Office Building at 6 Bladen Street, with a light Breakfast with members, before they disperse from 8:30 to 10:00 a.m. for legislator appointments.

At 10 a.m., members will meet at the Maryland State House to view House and Senate floor proceedings from its balconies. Lunch will run from 11 to 1 p.m., when members can observe Committee Hearings/Briefings in the Senate and House office buildings. At 5:30 p.m., the Leadership Dinner will take place at Hotel Annapolis (formerly Loews). Separate registration is required for Annapolis Day and the Leadership Dinner. For more information, email Michelle@mdtechcouncil.com.

BWI Marshall welcomes Frontier Airlines

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In late 2018, BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport announced that Frontier Airlines plans to start nonstop service to Denver on March 14. Frontier will initially offer four weekly roundtrip flights between BWI Marshall Airport and Denver International Airport. The airline will operate the flights using its Airbus A320 aircraft.

Frontier is the second new airline in 2018 to announce entry into the BWI Marshall Airport market. Icelandair announced in January 2018 that it would begin nonstop service between BWI Marshall and Reykjavik, Iceland. The Icelandair service began in May 2018.

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