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COVID-19 relief sent $62.7M to Second District restaurants, venues

Congressman C.A. “Dutch” Ruppersberger (D-MD) highlighted the impact of emergency federal funding for Maryland restaurants and arts and entertainment venues sidelined by the COVID-19 pandemic. The American Rescue Plan’s Restaurant Revitalization Fund (RRF) provided more than $40 million in grants to struggling eateries throughout Maryland’s 2nd District alone. Another $22.7 million aided museums, galleries, theaters, music festivals and more under the bill’s Shuttered Venue Operators Grant (SVOG) program.

The Congressman visited Myrie’s Island Kitchen in Randallstown, which received a grant that owner Christine Mattis-Myrie used to pay her rent and employees. He also visited the Chesapeake Arts Center, a nonprofit community arts center in Anne Arundel County’s Brooklyn Park that received a grant under the SVOG program.

“As the owners and executives of these nonprofits and small businesses can attest, the American Rescue Plan was an invaluable lifeline that literally kept the lights on and people fed throughout the COVID-19 pandemic,” Ruppersberger said. “As a lawmaker, nothing is more rewarding than seeing the positive impact of federal policy-making right here in our own backyards and knowing that these employers will now be able to support jobs and serve our communities for years to come.”

In all, 163 restaurants, food stands and trucks, bars and breweries in Maryland’s 2nd District received grants from the RRF. Another 20 venue operators, promoters, live-event producers, galleries and theaters in the district received funding under the SVOG program. Statewide, the RRF provided more than $561 million in restaurant grants and the SVOG provided $158 million in grants for arts and cultural venues.

Both programs were administered by the U.S. Small Business Administration, which awarded grants based on 2019 revenues and pandemic-related losses. Funding could be spent on a wide range of expenses including mortgages or rent, utilities, supplies, food and beverage inventory, payroll, and operational expenses.

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Apprentice House Press donates Hiassen book proceeds

TBM photo by Emily Calkins

Apprentice House Press, a student-run book publisher based at Loyola University Maryland, has contributed the proceeds from the sale of author Rob Hiaasen’s work, “Float Plan” and “Love Punch & Other Collected Columns,” to two nonprofit organizations promoting gun safety.

At the request of Hiaasen’s widow, Maria, Apprentice House Press has given a total of $5,000 to Everytown for Gun Safety Action Fund and The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence.

Hiaasen’s reporting and columns are familiar to a broad community, from Annapolis to Baltimore. His career writing for The Baltimore Sun and The Capital Gazette ended when he was killed in a newsroom shooting on June 28, 2018. For many years prior, Hiaasen had been developing a novel, which Apprentice House Press published posthumously in August 2018.

“It has been a privilege to publish Rob’s work,” said Kevin Atticks, director of Apprentice House Press. “‘Float Plan’ is a long-form example of the writing that endeared so many readers to Rob’s columns.”

A contemporary novel, “Float Plan” tells the story of a young man whose routine life is disrupted by a difficult year. Many of Hiaasen’s columns were published on June 28, 2019, the one-year anniversary of his death, as was “Love Punch & Other Collected Columns,” which is also available through Apprentice House.

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Small business data show increased Maryland sales

TBM photo by Emily Calkins.

As the Delta variant, vaccine and mask mandates, and talk of COVID-19 booster shots continue to cast a cloud of uncertainty over Maryland’s small business community, recent data suggest nearly half of the state’s small businesses reported higher sales.

That and other findings are part of Facebook’s latest Global State of Small Business Report. The report recaps the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, including information on how businesses in Maryland continue to adjust to uncertain conditions and how entrepreneurs are feeling about the future.

As of July 2021:

  • In July, nearly half of Maryland small businesses (48 percent) reported higher sales, up from 22 percent in February. This may be due to 53 percent of small businesses generating at least 25 percent of their sales from a digital presence, which outperforms the national average by eight points (45 percent).
  • Another bright spot in Maryland is that the percentage of operational women-owned businesses jumped almost 10 points (85 percent from 76 percent) since February. And 60 percent of those are reporting higher sales, well above the national average of 44 percent.
  • 41 percent of businesses expect cash flow challenges in the future, suggesting some uncertainty remains for small businesses that have been through so much in the past 18 months.

In an effort to help, over the past year Facebook has launched numerous initiatives aimed at supporting small businesses and helping them navigate the uncertainty of reopening, including providing grants to business owners, developing innovative new tools and products, and hosting digital tool training events, such as Boost with Facebook events.

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Vision Innovation Partners completes 19th acquisition

Vision Innovation Partners, of Annapolis, has acquired Ophthalmic Associates, a provider of integrated eye care services with five locations in Western Pennsylvania. The acquisition enhances Vision Innovation Partners’ significant presence in Pennsylvania and further strengthens its growing network of ophthalmology practices and ambulatory surgery centers in the mid-Atlantic.

“We are delighted that the paths of Ophthalmic Associates and Vision Innovation Partners have aligned. Since its founding in 1905, Ophthalmic Associates has been the trusted vision care provider to communities across six counties in Western Pennsylvania. Our partnership with Vision Innovation Partners will allow us to share best practices, achieve operational efficiencies and enhance the growth of our practice,” said Dr. John Brozetti and Dr. Joel A. Bezek.

Vision’s footprint now includes 55 practice locations and 10 surgery centers across Maryland, Washington, D.C., Virginia and Pennsylvania.

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Luminis Health garners pandemic response award

Image by hakan german from Pixabay.

Luminis Health has been awarded the American Hospital Association (AHA) Dick Davidson NOVA Award for its efforts to improve community health. Luminis Health is being recognized for its COVID-19 Community Prevention Project.

The AHA Dick Davidson NOVA Award honors hospitals and health systems for their collaborative efforts toward improving community health status, whether through health care, economic or social initiatives. Honorees participate in joint efforts among health care systems or hospitals or among hospitals and other community leaders and organizations.

“To be just one of five health systems in the country to receive this prestigious award is truly an honor,” said Tori Bayless, CEO of Luminis Health. “Since our mission is to enhance the health of the people and communities we serve, it is Luminis Health’s responsibility to be a leader at ending this pandemic. I applaud our Community Health Team, members from our pharmacy, information systems, engineering departments and so many more for working tirelessly to provide education and resources to our most vulnerable residents. Their efforts ultimately saved lives.”

The Luminis Health COVID-19 Prevention Program had many goals, including educating residents about COVID-19, connecting them with testing resources and providing important information about food scarcity and financial insecurity. The Luminis Health Community Health Team went door-to-door in Anne Arundel and Prince George’s Counties to provide life-saving information, cloth masks, hygiene products and bilingual education flyers.

“Because of this program, we reached more than 49,000 residents throughout the community said Chris Crabbs, director of community for Luminis Health. “Realizing community partnerships were essential, our team worked with property managers of senior and low incoming housing, faith leaders, business owners, county agencies and other non-profits to reach as many residents as possible. We share this award with all our partners because their collaboration made our communities safe and healthy.”

In January, the Community Health Team shifted its focus to administer COVID-19 vaccines at mobile clinics. To date, Luminis Health has administered more than 110,000 COVID-19 vaccines in Anne Arundel and Prince George’s Counties.

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MACC welcomes Randall as deputy executive director

The Maryland Association of Community Colleges (MACC) announced that Monica Randall has joined the association as deputy executive director. With more than 25 years of experience in higher education policy, she will fill the role vacated by Brad Phillips who became MACC’s executive director following the retirement of Bernie Sadusky in July.

Randall has experience in educational consulting, higher education policy, and held several senior-level university leadership positions. She also managed state aid programs for Maryland’s four-year public institutions, community colleges, and independent institutions while at the Maryland Higher Education Commission.

As deputy executive director, Randall will focus on legislative affairs, higher education policy, student outcomes analysis and policy recommendations.

Randall holds a Ph.D. in Public Policy from the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, where she conducted extensive research on financial aid and student success. Randall also holds two Master of Arts degrees from Ohio University, one in International Affairs and another in Public Administration. Her Bachelor of Arts is from the University of Virginia.

She is a member of the Greater Baltimore Committee’s Leadership Class of 2012 and Harvard University’s Institute for Educational Management Class of 2009.  She lives in Bowie, Maryland, with her husband and daughter.

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MIC opens Social Capital Builders

DeJesus Solutions has been accepted as the newest Resident Member of the Maryland Innovation Center (MIC). The black-owned and operated startup provides research, staff training and program development solutions for organizations dedicated to impacting youth engagement, with a mission to increase the social capital literacy of one million youth by 2025.

Edward DeJesus, president of DeJesus Solutions, began the Social Capital Builders project in Howard County in 2018. The initiative aims to advance the lifelong economic and social well-being of youth through social capital literacy, analysis, and development.

Despite the best efforts of workforce and educational systems, many students are failing to secure gainful employment equal to their investments in education and credentialing. DeJesus plans to change that.

“Access to financing and professional expertise is key,” he said. “With less than 2.6 percent of all venture capital funding going to Black and Latinx founders, we know DeJesus Solutions faces a serious challenge ahead.”

DeJesus Solutions is currently seeking seed funding from socially conscious investors to scale their Foundations in Social Capital Literacy curriculum and web- and app-based platform.

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Synergy Search re-enters local market, opens in Columbia

Synergy Search has resumed operations within the greater Baltimore metropolitan market with the opening of a new office situated in the West Friendship section of Howard County, Maryland. The eight-person professional team, which focuses on the recruitment and placement of accounting, finance and human resources professionals throughout numerous industry sectors, intends to open additional operations throughout sections of the United States to continue its corporate expansion strategy.

“A non-compete recently expired and we have now returned to the Baltimore area with renewed energy and a commitment of resources that will enable us to quickly gain market share,” stated Josh Volinsky, president and among the three co-founders of Synergy Search. “We believe our recruitment and placement model places a premium on executing successful and long-term searches. Our team has tremendous experience and relationships in the Baltimore region, and we are now in a position to leverage these resources to the benefit of businesses throughout the region. We intend to turn heads, immediately re-insert ourselves into the business community and make valuable contributions that are career and business-altering.”

The three founders of Synergy Search, which also include Gary Palank and Mark Hammond, have a combined 50 years of experience in the staffing industry and have completed more than 2,000 searches.

“Over the past year, we started a new recruiting company from scratch and transformed it into a multi-million-dollar company which, in turn, has made significant impact on our clients in the accounting and finance space,” said Volinsky. “We accomplished this by investing in our team, technology and resources to recognize and fill gaps in recruiting coverage, while also bringing a whatever-it-takes attitude to every assignment. Our goal is to match the most highly-qualified and best-suited candidate to the ideal position using a thorough vetting and evaluation process.”

“The pandemic has led many professionals to reevaluate their career choices and future aspirations, as well as created opportunities for companies to expand its search parameters in order to locate and attract talent that best fit its corporate mission. This has enabled our team to partner with rapidly-changing companies and demonstrate our proven approach to securing talent.

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Seagirt Marine Terminal welcomes four additional gigantic cranes

Four new, massive Neo-Panamax container cranes arrived on Sept. 9 at the Helen Delich Bentley Port of Baltimore’s Seagirt Marine Terminal. The cranes were delivered aboard the Zhen Hua 24 from China, greeted by officials from the Maryland Department of Transportation Port Administration (MDOT MPA) and its public-private partner, Ports America Chesapeake.

“The Port’s container business has grown impressively in recent years and is poised to grow even more with the addition of these new ultra-large cranes,” said Governor Larry Hogan.

“Thanks to our MDOT MPA team and our partners at Port America Chesapeake, the Port of Baltimore is well-positioned to continue as one of Maryland’s prime economic engines.”

“Baltimore is already one of the few ports on the East Coast capable of accommodating the world’s largest container ships,” MDOT Secretary Greg Slater said. “These new cranes will allow the Port to serve two ultra-large container ships simultaneously, boosting our capacity and giving us the opportunity to increase revenue and grow the jobs that help fuel Maryland’s economy.”

Each fully electric crane measures 450 feet tall and weighs about 1,740 tons – 25 feet taller and 190 tons heavier than the Port’s first set of Neo-Panamax cranes that arrived in 2012. The new cranes can each extend to reach 23 containers across on a ship and lift 187,500 pounds of cargo. Ports America Chesapeake will test and prepare the cranes over the next few months, and they are expected to be fully operational in early 2022.

The cranes are part of a significant expansion by Ports America Chesapeake at Seagirt to provide greater capacity and efficiency to handle anticipated increases in container volumes. The $166 million investment in terminal and yard upgrades includes a second, 50-foot-deep berth to accommodate mega-ships; new container handling equipment such as 15 hybrid-electric gantry cranes; and a new truck gate complex. Ports America Chesapeake also is making software and technology upgrades at Seagirt, and in February relocated a container repair depot off-dock to provide more fluid container delivery and pick-up.

There is a need for utilization of more gateways such as Baltimore to handle cargo in the United States. Import/export demand for container cargo has substantially increased over the past year and with that, port congestion is an all-time high. Due to the high number of local distribution, fulfillment and sorting centers in the area, Baltimore is a prime gateway for goods heading to the e-commerce market and for cargo sent to the Midwest via rail. The Port of Baltimore has served 23 “ad hoc” ships over the past year – vessels diverted to Baltimore that were not on a regularly scheduled service call – totaling more than 35,000 Twenty-foot Equivalent Unit (TEU) containers.

Containers coming through the Port of Baltimore have increased significantly since MDOT MPA and Ports America Chesapeake entered into a public-private partnership agreement in 2010. In 2009, the year prior to the agreement, Seagirt handled 257,367 containers. In 2020, after the first 10 years of the agreement, Seagirt handled 628,132 containers, an increase of 144 percent.

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Pittman Introduces prevailing wage legislation

Anne Arundel County Executive Steuart Pittman has introduced Anne Arundel County’s first prevailing wage legislation. The bill, co-sponsored by Councilmembers Sarah Lacey, Lisa Rodvien, Andrew Pruski and Allison Pickard, was introduced during a council hearing on Sept. 7. The public hearing will take place on Monday, Oct. 4.

The prevailing wage legislation, modeled after the state law and similar laws in other Maryland counties, will set the minimum hourly and a fringe benefit rate for the construction trades working on County contracts.

Anne Arundel County’s capital budget totals $430.2 million in fiscal 2021, and includes $183.9 million in County-controlled construction spending. A prevailing wage law on County-controlled construction spending would increase wages and benefits for the construction trades and increase the market share for Anne Arundel County construction contractors. A prevailing wage law on County-controlled construction spending would increase wages and benefits for the construction trades and increase the market share for Anne Arundel County construction contractors.

Most County-controlled construction spending is allocated to infrastructure, including sewer and water projects, and public works such as storm drains, streets, highways and bridges. As a result, much of the direct impacts from prevailing wages benefit local laborers and operating engineers.

A study by Pinnacle Economics projects across the fiscal 2021-2026 capital spending plan, a county-level prevailing wage would lead to a net increase of $34.3 million and 400 jobs for construction trades and other workers in Anne Arundel County. The local hire clause in the bill requires that contractors make best efforts to fill at least 51 percent of new jobs and new hires on capital improvement contracts and projects with county residents, helping to provide more opportunity for employment on county public works projects to county residents.
Prevailing wage laws enacted in other states have boosted tax revenues without raising construction costs, decreased inequalities in the construction industry by closing the wage disparity between white and minority tradespeople, and raised standards for middle class and female workers. Baltimore City, Baltimore County, Charles County, Montgomery County, and Prince George’s County have all implemented prevailing wage legislation, to the benefit of workers in those communities.

Residents can obtain additional answers to frequently asked questions about the Prevailing Wage legislation by referencing the bill’s FAQ Sheet (at www.aacounty.org/news-and-events/news-resources/pw-faq-sheet-3.pdf), or by emailing prevailingwage@aacounty.org.

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