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Trail concept plan could boost regional economy

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A long-range concept plan to establish a 10- to 12-foot-wide shared use trail running from Baltimore’s Inner Harbor to Sykesville in Carroll County could bring a public health benefit to communities along the network and increase trail business and tourism revenue.

Known as the Patapsco Regional Greenway (PRG), the trail, if completed, would pass through the communities of Cherry Hill, Baltimore Highlands, Halethorpe, Elkridge, Catonsville, Ellicott City, Oella, Daniels, Woodstock, Marriottsville and Sykesville.

The plan uses the existing trail system of the Patapsco Valley State Park (PVSP) as a hub to connect existing trail sections spread out through the various jurisdictions it would pass through.

Proponents say it would enable more extensive pathway access to the BWI employment corridor and to the airport itself and provide a meaningful alternative transportation option to other employment centers for people unable to safely commute by bike on dangerous roads.

Guinness Connection

In 2016, the Bicycle and Pedestrian Advisory Group of the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board (BRTB) raised the idea of the PRG to help reduce traffic congestion and contribute to environmental preservation.

According to Sheila Mahoney, senior transportation planner for the Baltimore Metropolitan Council (BMC), the PRG Concept Plan was approved by the BRTB in November 2017.

“The primary alignment was selected from existing trails which would be accessible to the greatest number of people in Anne Arundel County, Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Carroll County and Howard County,” she said.

The plan includes an implementation matrix to help partners design and construct individual projects in their own jurisdictions, and helps partners identify and secure funding for design and construction through various grant programs.

A two-mile segment between Elkridge and the Guinness Open Gate Brewery is currently in the preliminary design phase.

“The project is sponsored by Baltimore and Howard counties and managed by the BMC,” Mahoney said, with concept alignments expected to be presented to the community in early June. “We anticipate that Baltimore and Howard counties will apply for a Maryland Department of Transportation Grant in 2021 to complete the final design.”

Total design cost for these sections is an estimated $893,000, with a construction cost of approximately $1.53 million. “A large portion of that is for a bridge crossing the Patapsco River,” Mahoney said.

Economic Benefit

A 2015 study performed by Michael Bickle, a University of Maryland graduate student, compared the proposed Patapsco Regional Greenway to the Great Allegheny Passage (GAP) Trail connecting Cumberland to Pittsburgh as similar in scale.

Using an Environmental Systems Research Institute (ESRI) software platform to collect information on business revenue, congestion and medical expenditures, the study estimated $54 million in additional annual revenue attributed to the pathway in 2007, nine years after its construction.

“[That is a] mean percentage of 25.5 percent of revenue attributed to the trail,” Bickle said in the report, based on total business revenue of $213 million along the GAP Trail projected by the ESRI for 2014.

Making Connections

It’s difficult to say how soon the entire network could be connected due to the piecemeal approach being taken with projects in each of the jurisdictions.

“We are committed to supporting our partners through preliminary design management of the segments the select to advance,” Mahoney said. “Additionally, some sections such as the Old Main Line Trail in Patapsco Valley State Park are available for use now, even with unpaved surfaces.”

Overall, she said, the concept plan has received wide community support. “For the Elkridge to Guinness segment, we invited community members representing different advocacy groups and interests to serve on a public advisory committee,” Mahoney said. “They represent the business community, Patapsco Valley State Park and heritage area and recreational interests and we plan to do the same for the next segments as they enter design to ensure the Greenway supports the needs of the diverse communities it connects.”

Chris Eatough, bike and pedestrian coordinator for the Howard County Office of Transportation, said Howard County supports the concept.

“The main section for Howard County is the connection from the existing Grist Mill Trail to Elkridge and Guinness, which is mostly a Baltimore County effort” he said. “Similarly, a connection from Elkridge to the BWI Trail would mostly lie in Anne Arundel County. All of these connections are desirable, but with budget constraints, they will need to be prioritized and built out over time.”

A completed PRG Trail would be a huge draw for the region in terms of trail tourism and local economic development, he noted, particularly for Elkridge and Ellicott City.

“From a transportation standpoint, the connection from Howard County to the BWI Business District would be very valuable,” Eatough said. “There are a lot of jobs in the BWI District in addition to those at the airport, and this is only about five miles from Elkridge.”

By George Berkheimer | Senior Writer | The Business Monthly | April 2020 issue

A letter from BWI Business Partnership Executive Director Gina Stewart

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I hope you are staying healthy! We are into our third week of working remotely and, I don’t know about you all, but I miss people!!

I miss seeing my staff: Cate, Cynthia and Peach! I have come to love and respect these ladies for who they are, personally – along with their strengths and talents, professionally – since becoming executive director not quite 18 months ago.

And I miss interacting with YOU: our members and future members! Conference calls and webinars are just NOT the same. I have always been a very social person, even as far back as my grade school days when teachers constantly sent me home with notes saying, “Gina is doing well, but she is always talking to her classmates, which is a little disruptive to the class.” It is in my DNA, and having to change the way I am in such a short period of time has been a very REAL struggle for me!

It makes me wonder: When the COVID-19 crisis is over, how will we all react to being able to gather together again? Will we come racing back to see our friends, customers, clients, colleagues, or will we hesitate and not express physical signs of friendship – handshakes, hugs, etc.? Personally, I cannot wait to once again interact in person with family, friends, my co-workers, and you! I welcome your opinions: please reach out to me with your thoughts at gstewart@bwipartner.org.

Partnership Events

Keep an eye out for details about our upcoming Virtual Breakfast on April 15. Start your morning with a networking session: you will be seated at a “virtual table” with industry peers from 7:45 to 8:20 a.m., followed by a webinar at 8:30am presented by Ricky Smith, CEO and executive director of BWI Thurgood Marshall Airport, who will provide us with an update on the airport during the COVID-19 pandemic. Prices are $30 for members/$40 for non-members.

Our last two webinars were quite successful, and we thank everyone who participated in them. If you missed either presentation and would like to view the recordings, please do! The T3 on the Redevelopment of Annapolis’ Waterfront was insightful and educational and Tuesday’s session, presented by HR Strategy Group, provided clarity and guidance for employers pertaining to the new legislation as a result of COVID-19.

Positivity

To quote the late John Wooden, Former US Basketball player and Coach of the University of California – Los Angeles: “Things work out best for those who make the best of how things work out.”

Casinos generate $68.7M in March

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Maryland Lottery and Gaming announced that March 2020 gaming revenues for the state’s six casinos were $68,657,232. The total was substantially limited by the closure of all six casinos at midnight on March 16, due to the coronavirus pandemic.

In conjunction with his March 5 declaration of a state of emergency, Gov. Larry Hogan issued a March 15 executive order to close the casinos as part of the state of Maryland’s effort to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

March 2020 casino revenues decreased $94,605,616 (-57.9%) compared to March of 2019, when the casinos generated a single-month record of $163,262,848. Contributions to the state of Maryland from March 2020 casino revenue totaled $28,273,287, including $21,201,796 for the Education Trust Fund. Casino gaming revenues also support local communities and jurisdictions where the six casinos are located, as well as Maryland’s horse racing industry.

Here is a breakdown of March 2020 gaming revenues for each central Maryland casino:

MGM National Harbor, Oxon Hill (3,107 slot machines, 206 table games) $26,000,235 in March 2020, a decrease of $36,775,604 (-58.6%) from March 2019.

Live! Casino & Hotel, Hanover (3,853 slot machines, 193 table games) $24,843,475 in March 2020, a decrease of $31,102,248 (-55.6%) from March 2019.

Horseshoe Casino Baltimore (2,084 slot machines, 154 table games) $9,924,038 in March 2020, a decrease of $15,677,357 (-61.2%) from March 2019.

Details on each casino’s gaming revenues and contributions to the State of Maryland are included in the attached charts, and both fiscal and calendar year-to-date totals are available at www.mdgaming.com/wp-content/uploads/2020/04/March-2020-Casino-Revenue-Data.pdf.

Howard gets AAA credit ratings

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Howard County, for the 23rd consecutive year, the county received the highest possible credit rating, AAA, from all three bond rating agencies: Fitch Ratings, Moody’s Investor Services and Standard & Poor’s.

Among more than 3,100 counties in the nation, Howard is one of 46 counties to receive a AAA rating from all three agencies. The rating affirms Howard County’s ability to pay its debts and gives taxpayers the lowest possible interest when repaying bonds sold by the county.

The rating agencies use four categories of criteria: Economy/Tax base, Finances, Management, and Debt/Pensions. Each agency issued a report that highlights Howard County’s strengths:

Fitch expects “Howard County to maintain a high level of financial flexibility throughout economic cycles, consistent with a long history of sound operating performance and healthy reserves […] and expects the natural pace of general fund revenues to perform in line with GDP over the long term based on strong economic activity and continued investment in the county.”

Moody’s reported, “Howard County is not susceptible to immediate material credit risks related to coronavirus. The longer-term impact will depend on both the severity and duration of the crisis. The situation surrounding coronavirus is rapidly evolving. If our view of the credit quality of Howard County changes, we will publish our updated opinion at that time.

Moody’s also indicates the credit strengths of the county include: a “Large tax base with strong institutional presence and proximity to the Baltimore-Washington metro area, above average wealth and income levels” and that the “management team practices conservative budgeting and maintains formal fiscal policies.”

Standard & Poor’s noted, “We view the county’s management as very strong, with strong financial policies and practices under our Financial Management Assessment methodology, indicating financial practices are strong, well embedded, and likely sustainable.

Conservative budgeting practices, several formal and well-adhered to fiscal policies, active participation by the county’s 22-member Spending Affordability Advisory Committee (SAAC) and coupled with a well-seasoned management team has aided in its sound financial position.”

The full bond rating reports are available at: www.howardcountymd.gov/Departments/FInance/Financial-Information/Bonds

Treasury releases Paycheck Protection Program info

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Businesses that are anticipating applying to the SBA Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) should begin preparing now. Application submission began on April 3 for small business and sole proprietors, and starts April 10 for independent contractors and self-employed individuals.

The PPP provides up to $10 million in forgivable loans to assist businesses in keeping their employees. Even if your business has already reduced employment, you are still eligible based on employment levels prior to Feb. 15.

To Prepare:

● Read the PPP information sheet from the US Treasury carefully

● Contact your current SBA partner bank and let them know you are interested in participating. If you do not currently bank with an SBA partner bank, you can find the statewide and county specific SBA banks by visiting www.sba.gov/funding-programs/loans/coronavirus-relief-options/paycheck-protection-program-ppp

● Download the SAMPLE form and be prepared to provide the information provided therein.

Stay connected with the SBA and US Treasury’s social media accounts, and be prepared for the official application to be released.

● While waiting to submit your PPP application, consider the SBA’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan (with a forgivable $10k advance) as an additional resource. Learn more by visiting our information portal.

CAMI launches Cyber SWAT Team hotline

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The Cybersecurity Association of Maryland Inc. (CAMI) has launched its Cyber SWAT Team initiative to provide a coordinated breach response effort to respond to the increase in cybersecurity attacks as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Businesses can email cyberSWAT@MDcyber.com directly or visit https://MDcyber.com/cyber_swat_team.php to submit a hotline request via online form.

Businesses will then receive a call from a cybersecurity professional within one hour who will gather additional information and triage their hotline request to the best fit cybersecurity firm based on their size, location, industry and breach needs. There is no cost for this hotline service connecting businesses with information, resources and referrals.

Participating Cyber SWAT Team companies have volunteered to give their time to businesses in need of information, resources and referrals to keep their business afloat amidst a cybersecurity crisis. These participating firms are vetted by CAMI staff and its board of directors, and must be in good standing with the state of Maryland and with the Better Business Bureau.

Cyber SWAT Team responders include two groups of professionals: Triage Team and Incident Response Team. The Triage Team is responsible for outreach to the businesses contacting the hotline, gathering additional information and making referrals to the best-fit Incident Response Team. Incident Response Team members are cybersecurity companies with resources to fit their breach response needs.

This initiative was spearheaded by CAMI Executive Board members and sanctioned by the state. Additional information can be found at https://govstatus.egov.com/md-coronavirus-business, where any company can send an email requesting help.

CAMI Board Chairman, Gregg Smith, CEO of Columbia-based Attila Security, said, “The Cyber SWAT Team initiative meets an extreme need for businesses at the time of the COVID-19 pandemic. As businesses transition to remote work and quickly implement new technologies and practices, they are more vulnerable to cybersecurity attacks than ever before. The Cyber SWAT Team hotline provides a direct line to a cybersecurity professional to provide quick response in the event of a breach.”

Sandy Spring completes Revere acquisition

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Sandy Spring Bank announced April 1 that it has completed its acquisition of Revere Bank and added new executives and directors.

Now officially part of Sandy Spring, Revere’s branding will change to Sandy Spring following the full conversion of Revere’s systems, which is expected to occur during the third quarter of 2020.

“It is a critical time for us to come together as a company and community, so we are pleased to welcome Revere Bank clients and employees to Sandy Spring Bank,” said Daniel J. Schrider, president and CEO of Sandy Spring Bank, headquartered in Olney, Maryland.

The combined bank’s assets total $11.4 billion, which has resulted in Sandy Spring exceeding the important growth benchmark of $10 billion and making it the largest locally headquartered community bank in the Greater Washington, D.C. region.

Revere’s clients will have access to Sandy Spring’s capabilities and products, which include commercial and retail banking, mortgage, private banking and trust services, as well as a menu of insurance and wealth management services through its subsidiaries.

In connection with its acquisition of Revere, former Revere directors Christina Baldwin O’Meara, president of O’Meara Properties, Walter C. (Clay) Martz II, an attorney at Walter C. Martz, LLC, and Brian J. Lemek, the founder and owner of Lemek Slower Lower LLC, are joining Sandy Spring’s board of directors.

Revere’s Co-Presidents and CEOs, Kenneth C. Cook and Andrew F. Flott, have joined Sandy Spring as Executive Vice President and Division Executive, respectively.

With the completion of the merger, former Revere shareholders received 1.05 shares of Sandy Spring common stock for each share of Revere common stock they held. Based on the $22.64 per share closing price of Sandy Spring common stock on March 31, 2020, the total transaction value is approximately $287 million.

Sandy Spring shareholders now own approximately 74 percent of the combined company, and former Revere shareholders own approximately 26 percent.

Q&A with Jay Perman

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Jay Perman

Ask Jay Perman a question and you’ll get an answer – an answer that is likely well thought  out  and  documented  with  an  ample amount of facts and figures. He also will make his views very clear. He recently took the reins of the Maryland universities and he spoke with The Business Monthly about a wide variety of subjects.

What’s USM’s in-state and out-of-state student enrollment?

While the numbers vary from institution to institution, undergraduate enrollment systemwide is more than 80 percent in-state. Total enrollment systemwide for undergraduate and graduate students is just about 80 percent in-state.

How does USM plan to get more Maryland high school graduates?

The USM is the state’s top provider of higher education degrees. More than 172,000 students are enrolled in our universities and we confer nearly 80 percent of all bachelor’s degrees awarded in Maryland. Plus, with research universities, comprehensive institutions, historically black institutions and one of the world’s leading online universities, we offer options that appeal to every student.

But we’re always trying to serve Maryland learners more effectively. We partner with K-12 schools to operate dual-enrollment programs so that students can get a head start on college credits and we offer college-readiness courses to ensure that high schoolers are prepared for the rigors of postsecondary education.

We’re also partnering with Maryland’s community colleges to expand our 2+2 programs, allowing graduates of the state’s two-year colleges to seamlessly transfer into one of our institutions for another two years, then graduate with their bachelor’s degree.

And, finally, there’s the simple [physical] growth of our universities, along with the virtual expansion we’re pioneering with the Kirwan Center for Academic Innovation.

How can USM graduate more students?

The latest data show that 72 percent of the system’s first-time, full-time students graduated from one of our institutions within six years (higher education’s standard graduation rate measure). And we continue to make strong progress in this area. That figure is up from 69 percent four years earlier.

It’s important to note that these increases came while the overall number of new students also climbed. With better student success and more students enrolled, we saw good growth in the number of degrees awarded.

However, there’s certainly room for improvement. We’re working with high schools and community colleges to get students college-ready and reduce the need for remediation, which too often ends in dropouts. Support for first-year students is so important because it’s at that stage – between first and second fall – that we lose so many students.
We’re also making sure we provide adequate financial aid packages.

How does USM help students avoid excessive debt?

Affordability is one of the system’s top priorities and it’s a personal priority of mine. Fifteen years ago, Maryland had the sixth highest tuition and fees in the nation. Today, in-state tuition and fees for our public four-year institutions has dropped to 24th. Our costs are now below the national average.

For the past several years – with bipartisan support in Annapolis – the system has limited tuition increases to two percent for in-state undergrads. Last year alone, USM awarded $161 million in institutional financial aid, with more than half of this aid given to students with unmet financial need. Today, almost half of all USM undergraduate students graduate without any debt.

How is USM working with the business community?

The Kirwan Center has engaged business in an initiative called Badging Essential Skills for Transitions (B.E.S.T.). The point is to develop credentials to help bridge the gap between students’ accomplishments in college and their workplace readiness, with a focus on critical non-technical skills.

How is USM promoting entrepreneurship?

We’ve incorporated entrepreneurial activity into the criteria by which we evaluate faculty for promotion and tenure. The USM Office of Economic Development works with a range of programs to help entrepreneurs, startups and small businesses get a foothold in the marketplace. For instance, I-Corps trains entrepreneurs in customer discovery to uncover market potential.

Maryland Industrial Partnerships (MIPS) supports Maryland tech companies that team with USM faculty to develop products or services. MIPS funding actually helps pay for the university research.

And, UM Ventures adds resources to de-risk and advance the system’s most promising technologies in medical devices, health informatics, and so on. The system’s Maryland Momentum Fund invests directly in USM startups.

We’ve invested in 12 companies through the fund so far, with $3.75 million committed. That money’s been matched 4-to-1 by co-investors. Plus, we help our faculty and startups access considerable state resources – those from, e.g., TEDCO and Maryland Commerce.

How will the Maryland Quantum Alliance promote collaboration?

The alliance is based on the idea that collaboration among academia, the private sector and government is essential to developing quantum technologies and training the quantum workforce of tomorrow. The point is to create opportunities for large and small companies – like Lockheed Martin, Amazon Web Services and IonQ.

How does UMCP promote its Cyberhonors program?

UMCP’s Advanced Cybersecurity Experience for Students (ACES) was launched in 2013 with a major gift from Northrop Grumman Corp. It’s the nation’s first cyberse-curity honors program for undergraduates. ACES offers a tight-knit, living-learning program for freshmen and sophomores and an academic minor for upperclassmen of all majors.

What do you think about UMCP joining the Big Ten?

I believe deeply in the value of extracurricular activities. Athletics, like the arts, are often an integral part of a student’s college experience, as a participant and a spectator.

In terms of the development around the campus, it shows how far universities have come in connecting to their communities in throwing off the insular reputation academia has had for so long. And it’s definitely instigated important conversations about how we build local economies that are inclusive of our neighbors and lift them up, rather than push them out.

What’s your take on the Kirwan Commission?

I think it’s safe to say that the Kirwan recommendations will establish Maryland as a national leader in education reform, in part because they’re so comprehensive – they take a pre-K through college/career approach.

Improving education requires investment. The key is to monitor how well the investments are working and to build into the Kirwan model flexibility, accountability and transparency so that Maryland citizens can see what their money is returning.

By Mark Smith | Senior Writer | The Business Monthly| April 2020 Issue

Three weeks into the Coronavirus crisis, what should you do next?

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By Ryan Miller | Principal, Critical Functions, LLC | Guest Commentary

Ryan Miller

Twenty-five years ago, just 3,500 feet above downtown Atlanta, the engine quit as my brother and I flew a small Cessna 172 to visit friends.

We were enjoying the view of the city below us when there was sudden and total silence. Peaceful and terrifying at the same time.

My brother John, who is now a captain for a commercial airline, was my flight instructor. He had just helped me “solo” for the first time, so we decided to take the long trip from Maryland to learn some new skills.

Nearly paralyzed, I watched John immediately execute the “engine out” checklist.

Step 1: maintain control of the aircraft. Step 2: set the pitch (angle) and airspeed of the plane to maximize the amount of time it will stay the air with no engine.

As it turns out, an airspeed of 68 knots is optimal for a Cessna 172.

Once the pitch and airspeed were set, we had bought ourselves enough time to begin troubleshooting and call a “mayday.”

He then worked through the rest of the checklist and ultimately got the engine restarted.

In the first few weeks of the Coronavirus crisis, my work focused on facilitating the process (in person at first, and now virtually) for CEOs and Executive Leadership Teams as we developed and implemented business continuity strategies.

We got in front of the dry erase board, navigated the extreme pressure and pace, and created plans to ensure business survival. Then, executive leaders took the controls and actively flew the aircraft.

Most companies are now controlling expenses and optimizing their financial position. They are setting their pitch and airspeed to stay in the air as long as possible as though they are experiencing a complete engine failure.

With active control in place, it’s is time to work through a checklist of actions. What should you be doing next?

Here are some recommendations to consider as you work to get the engine restarted:

· Actively engage specialists: Right now, you need access to specialists who can help you pivot and/or navigate the various financial resources available to you. Consider your local economic development organization or look for support from your professional associations.

· Keep your rhythm and focus on objectives: You worked hard early in this crisis to establish a daily rhythm and process for your Team that kept them operating at the right level. Even when the pace starts to slow, don’t let your guard down and slip back into fighting brushfires all day.

· Stabilize, document and optimize: While many companies have sufficient business continuity plans, much is still figured out on the fly. Now is the time to document what you have, particularly new workflows and look for ways to make them better and more secure.

· Look for signs of overload or burnout: Not all failure happens during the acute phase of a crisis. Stay intensely focused on your people. Who is still shouldering too much of the workload? Without having daily face-to-face contact, spotting those at risk and keeping morale high is more important than ever.

· Take good notes and keep good records: Chances are that a day of work right now feels like a week. That is what happens during a crisis, and without notes to refer back to, everything will begin to run together. Don’t lose the opportunity to learn from the big and small lessons this crisis is teaching you and your team.

· Start planning for recovery: As you are able, begin to dedicate resources to planning for the inevitable disruptions, bottlenecks and resource limitations a “rush to return” could mean for your business. What can be done now to ensure you, your suppliers and even your customers make a smooth landing?

We have just emerged from several weeks of crisis, and even well-positioned companies are moving forward cautiously.

Use the above prompts as you begin to build your checklist for the next phase.

But don’t stop there – ask others in your industry what they are doing right now and what challenges they are facing.

How about taking time now to make sure the crisis did not create a new or increased risk exposure for your company by reviewing the list of Critical Functions?

Above all else, keep flying the plane, keep the nose at the right pitch, and stay disciplined as the Coronavirus situation continues to evolve and challenge all of us.

Have you established control of your “plane” and set the pitch? If so, what is on your checklist?

Ryan Miller is Principal of Critical Functions, LLC, risk and resilience advisors. You can email him at ryan@criticalfunctions.com.

Busboys and Poets, keeping the vibe during expansion

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As the new Busboys & Poets rises in the Merriweather District of Downtown Columbia, founder and CEO Andy Shallal offered a surprising admission.

“I never really planned for expansion,” said Shallal. “I really only planned operating a sole location. It just grew organically from there.”

That’s noteworthy – because the eighth and ninth locations of Washington, D.C.-based restaurant and cultural melting pot are slated to open in Maryland this year with the other in Baltimore’s Charles Village.

While that kind of growth this admirable in the risky restaurant market, it also can lead to a new hurdle: keeping that groovy vibe that led to the initial success as the company expands.

That Feel

Founder & CEO Andy Shallal. Photo by Emily Calkins.

Shallal said that he’s shied away from rapidly expanding for that reason. “We’ve been methodical about doing so, because you can end up losing the elements that made it successful. You have to have that foundation first and we try to create that atmosphere with everything we do.”

How does Busboys & Poets, which started in 2005, do it? “We’re constantly reconstituting ourselves to come up with more effective ways to maintain that vibe,” Shallal said. “It’s the programming we offer for the authors and writers we present, addressing current issues and politics, the poetry we offer, the books that we sell,” he said, adding that the company has its own music channel on a streaming service that his daughter programs “to make sure it’s eclectic.”

The company hires from non-traditional restaurant sources, which include an art curator, a poetry director and a director for its documentary film series. “It isn’t like we just have a poet show up and start reading,” he said.

Shallal also knows that different stores in different markets have different requirements, especially in a diverse market like Columbia. “That store is more of an experiment, really,” he said. At 10,000 square feet with special rooms, “It will be our largest location and will offer more varied programming, with more live music, and social and business events.”

The Same Old

On the other hand, there are still plenty of companies that have succeeded with what Shallal and others see as the “cookie cutter” approach.

“I always think in terms of TGI Fridays (which has several area locations) and how all of the art in the earlier locations represented something to someone,” he said, “but then Fridays turned into a business. You may still find a broken oar in your nearby location that means something to the locals instead of six broken oars someone at corporate bought on Amazon. That can work, too, but a location loses that local appeal and illustrates that, at some point, there was a divergence from the original idea.”

Fridays’ approach reminds Carol Spieckerman, founder of the Bentonville, Ark.-based retail strategy firm Spieckerman Retail, of Whole Foods, which has area locations in Downtown Columbia and in Annapolis Towne Centre.

“Whole Foods has a value around individual stores resonating with local communities. However, the more stores that a company opens, and the more unique each lo-cation is, the more complex it is to execute that approach,” she said.

Spieckerman pointed out that retailers’ desire to scale concepts quickly can blunt localization. “I think one reason Whole Foods has struggled is because the company stopped putting that kind of effort into their stores. Whole Foods is a cautionary tale of scale vs. localization.”

And many retailers “are obsessed with localization,” she said, “but the problem is that you have to decide to what degree you’re going to localize store design elements and product and brand selection.” Spieckerman thinks that Busboys & Poets may be at an inflection point in that regard. “Retailers that cut corners on localization and shift to standardization risk becoming just another store or watering hole,” she said.

Added Spieckerman, “If you build too many locations for a retail concept, it can reach a perceived saturation point. Not every concept is destined to become a big chain.”

That’s not a concern of Shallal or of Greg Fitchitt, president, Columbia for The Howard Hughes Corp., who thinks Busboys & Poets is the perfect fit for Downtown Columbia.

“Busboys & Poets creates a space for art, culture and politics to intentionally collide, in service of building community and inspiring positive social change,” said Fitchitt. “As we create the new neighborhood of the Merriweather District, I can’t imagine a better anchor than Busboys, a place where the new residents, workers, entrepreneurs and visitors will all gather and convene over great food, drink, art and culture.”

Be Consistent

Mark Millman, president and CEO of Millman Search Group in Owings Mills, Md., said the key to expansions large and small centers around one word: “Consistency, so when people go from one location to another, they’ll know what to expect. The best surprise is no surprise. It takes a considerable amount of training and development as well as hiring the right people to maintain that vibe, and to uphold the guidelines and standards from the original locations that made it successful.”

He said, “If you go to McDonald’s in Baltimore or Las Vegas, you know what you’re getting.”

That’s what Shallal is working toward for his customers. “Even today, I show up in my locations about once a week to make comments and suggestions,” he said.
Still, he maintains that he really doesn’t have a long-term strategic plan.

“Maybe that’s part of the charm of the place. I want to feel it out. If by the end of the year and all is humming and I find another market, then why not?” he said, “But I don’t have the outlook of having a plan for the next three-to-five years. Expansion outside the region isn’t impossible, but if we do it, we’d think in terms of starting a new company.”

By Mark R. Smith | Senior Writer | The Business Monthly | April 2020 Issue 

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