Maryland 3.0: TEDCO’s Startup Help on the Shore with Bill Bernard

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For almost ten years, the Maryland Technology Development Corporation, otherwise known as TEDCO, has been the state’s s leading source for business assistance and seed funding for the development of startup companies.

And during their nine years of existence, TEDCO’s track record has been impressive. Hundreds of entrepreneurs have been helped in taking their products to market through mentoring, funding and networking.  That has led to over $110 million in investment dollars and over 350 and research programs funded since 1998.

But what does that mean for the Eastern Shore?

We asked that question to Bill Bernard, TEDCO’s new representative for the Eastern Shore, to get a better idea of how TEDCO works. Bill’s response was to give the example of a very young entrepreneur with a great business idea but who needed help getting his product to market.

Bill also cites his work with hotDesks, a program started by the Eastern Shore Entrepreneurship Center, to provide the tools (like 3D printers) and business consultation support through its Revolution Labs program.

It doesn’t hurt that Bill comes to this new position after a long history of entrepreneurship after a tour of duty in the Peace Corps and a career in marine biology with the Smithsonian Institution. His businesses have included an aquaculture company that operated in the Dominican Republic, and more recently, founding 3Di’s Hyperspectral Remote Sensing Division.

This video is approximately two minutes in length. For more information about TEDCO please go here

Maryland 3.0: LaMotte Chemical Hits Paydirt

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The ultimate goal of a manufacturing company is to develop a product so rare, so specific in purpose, and so difficult for competitors to replicate, that it catapults the business to a new level of profitability and growth. In truth, however, that kind of dynamic force remains elusive for the vast majority of the small manufacturers of the world.

Faced with the day to day business of holding their market position, lacking large research and development budgets, and always needing to adjust pricing to stay in the game, the small manufacturer’s real objective is to remain competitive with what they produce now rather than seek the holy grail of a transformational new product.

And since 1919, the LaMotte Chemical Company in Chestertown has been doing just that; selling high-quality testing equipment for such things as boilers, swimming pools, and drinking water. And while they have had some breakout products since the chemist, Frank LaMotte, started the business, the public perception of the company, especially as it relocated to the Eastern Shore in 1956 from Baltimore, was one of a reliable, if not particularly exciting, venture that makes a small range of products extremely well.

That might be one of the reasons the Arthur H. Thomas Company of New Jersey purchased the family-owned business in 1983. Its “steady Eddie” track record, with modest but consistent profit margins, could only be seen as a solid asset for a new parent company eager to branch out to include water testing in their portfolio of science testing equipment.

At least that was the plan as LaMotte’s president, David LaMotte (grandson of the founder), understood it, but that didn’t stop the small company from thinking about “the next great thing” in water testing. With the encouragement of Thomas, LaMotte staff continued to explore ways to use modern technology to improve the accuracy and speed of their testing methods.

Little did anyone know that after seven years of tinkering, all this effort would produce the kind of “wow” product other firms could only dream about. The development of the Waterlink Spin Touch unit has radically changed the future of both water testing and LaMotte Chemical at the same time.

Looking like an oversized CD player, and armed with specialized testing discs and Bluetooth controlled data collection, the Spin Touch can now test for up to ten different water conditions in less the 60 seconds and broadcast those results to regional and national databases just as quickly. The results have added over $12 million annually to LaMotte’s top line, created the need to add 30 new employees, build a 9,000 square foot expansion to the physical plant, and legally protect the Spin Touch’s design through the development of dozens of new patents. This success has also caused an entirely new spirit among LaMotte’s employees as they see their product become the equivalent of the iPhone for water testing throughout the world.

This video is approximately five minutes in length. For more information about LaMotte Chemical Company please go here

Maryland 3.0: Making Eastern Shore Towns “Cool”

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Salisbury Mayor Jake Day, 34, has a floor-to-ceiling erasable board dotted with Post-it notes on the longest wall of his office.

Salisbury Mayor Jake Day

It’s a jarring display of terrestrial organization for a millennial, but Day is hardly old school. He’s got two masters degrees, one from Carnegie Mellon in urban design and the other from Oxford in environmental policy. He is also an officer in the Maryland National Guard and a local boy whose father was recently named COO of Perdue Farms.

“There were moments when, as a 9-year-old living in Salisbury, I was thinking I really want to be mayor in this town,” said Day.

So he’s had plenty of time to think about how he’d change things in a city with a history of helter-skelter development and a stubborn crime rate.

“The biggest thing for us has been arts, entertainment and culture,” Day explained. “Recognizing that those things can be more than an ancillary benefit, but a driver has been big for us.”

Day is staring down a core problem in rural Maryland: People are dying faster than they’re being replaced, and where they’re not the numbers are trending that way. So retaining residents and attracting new ones is vital. Because creating jobs, enticing new industries and rebuilding infrastructure matters little if there’s no one around to fill those jobs, drive on those new roads or enjoy those renovated downtowns.

And cities like Salisbury, Frederick and Cumberland — small urban anchors in Maryland’s rural areas — could be where the revitalization begins.

Or where it’s already underway.

A matter of life and death

Garrett, Allegany, Kent, Talbot, Dorchester, Somerset and Worcester counties all had more deaths than births in 2015, according Maryland’s Vital Statistics Report. Leading the way on the Eastern Shore was Kent, which had a third fewer births than deaths. In Western Maryland it was Allegany, where the disparity was 27 percent.

In Wicomico County, where Salisbury is located, the numbers are rosier. In 2015, births beat deaths by 36 percent. However, in 2010 that number was 50 percent. The same trend is there for Frederick County, where births outpaced death two to one in 2010, but slowed to five for every three in 2015.

Population problems in rural areas tend to get framed in economic terms. The argument goes that young people won’t stay if there are no jobs, but the jobs won’t come if there are no young people to fill them. But the jobs are there.

According to Maryland’s Workforce Exchange, there were more than 600 open job listings in Wicomico County, the majority of which were in Salisbury. The numbers are similar in Frederick and Allegany, with more than 500 open job listings in both counties as of late April.

“The problem is that we’re just not adding people at the same rate that we’re adding jobs,” Day said.

Part of the challenge includes boosting the quality, pay and benefits of available jobs. According to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, there has been a pronounced economic shift in Salisbury over the last 10 years from producing things to delivering services — and with it, more jobs that tend to pay less and come with fewer benefits.

In order to sell employment that might not stack up salary-wise to urban areas, mayors like Day and Randy McClement in the city of Frederick are increasingly turning to what they can offer instead: quality of life.

“The thing we’ve been able to do is make Frederick a destination,” said McClement, who’s been mayor there since 2009. “We’ve done that with a hip feel. Millennials are looking for a livable, walkable city. By delivering that, we’re attracting the younger generation.”

The city of Frederick, basically the model for small to mid-size urban redevelopment in Maryland, has the luxury of being perched at the top of I-270 corridor, in commuting distance to job-rich Washington, D.C., and Montgomery County. Salisbury is more remote, and the people who live near it more reliant on its services.

When asked what Salisbury’s 33,000-odd residents needs most, Day points first to an intangible.

“The thing we struggle to overcome more than anything else is a change to our community self-esteem,” he said. “We look to ourselves in a poorer light than any metric would suggest that we should.”

Day is referring in part to Salisbury’s crime problem. According to the Governor’s Office of Crime Control and Prevention, the city’s violent crime rate per 100,000 people in 2015 was almost double the state average, though it has fallen in recent years.

“We’ve had some dark times and those things linger,” said Day. “It’s easy to latch onto them as your identity and it’s a lot tougher to get people to believe that things aren’t so bad.”

Downtown Salisbury

To help put the past behind, Day wants to remake pretty much the entire city. And, thanks to a partnership he initiated between Salisbury and the University of Maryland School of Architecture, Preservation and Planning, he has a blueprint to do it.

It focuses on the city’s urban core, dividing it into seven neighborhoods, and includes everything from streetscape redesign to newly constructed modern buildings and bridges along the city’s riverwalk on either side of the Wicomico River, which snakes west to east through Salisbury’s center.

Day is hyperfocused on the city’s physical appearance, particularly its branding and signage, but also its benches, planters and trash cans, which are not uniform at present and clearly bother the mayor’s design sense.

Salisbury’s master plan has a proposed price tag of about $640 million over 20 years, nearly 75 percent of which is meant to come from private sector investment. The plan is aggressive and maybe unrealistic, but also visionary. And perhaps no surprise from a mayor with an undergraduate degree in architecture and a masters in urban planning.

Day is also pursuing smaller, less costly efforts at rebranding Salisbury, including being a finalist to host the National Folk Festival for three years, a 175,000-person event that takes place over a long fall weekend each year. Prior hosts include Nashville and Richmond, with Greensboro, N.C., as the event’s current location.

Finally, one of the simpler efforts Day and his team are doing is something called 3rd Fridays, where the city organizes arts and crafts vendors and live music in the city’s historic quarter.

“We had to focus on our own market first so we stopped worrying about the beaches and Baltimore and Washington for a minute and tried to figure out how to get local people to show up,” Day said.

Initial funding for 3rd Fridays the first year was around $20,000. In 2016, it was $280,000.

Given the size and scope of his efforts, it’s fair to question Day’s ability to keep all of them on track, including management of Salisbury’s 435 city employees.

But Day is a believer in using data to make decisions and runs his weekly management meetings like a military battle briefing. Each of his department heads have between four and six key metrics that they measure and then provide updates on on a weekly basis. These include things like potholes filled and lane miles paved and travel time on fire department calls.

“We’re measuring constantly and we’re making decisions based on that,” said Day, his enthusiasm growing as he drills down on yet another topic. “The weakness is the linkage to mapping. We need to reinvent our use of GIS (geographic information systems).”

Something Day will probably incorporate into his briefings soon.

by J.F. Meils

Maryland 3.0: Sprouts Starts to Take Over the Eastern Shore

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Just so you know….perhaps one of the most significant “foodie” experiments in the country is taking place on the Mid-Shore.

A young couple, primarily trained in nutritional science and fitness, decide to escape the rat race of the Western Shore and relocate to Trappe to start a food delivery business dedicated to high quality prepared meals with locally sourced produce and meat.

The concept was simple. Rather than send clients the raw materials to make a nutritious meal (think Blue Apron), Sprout owners Ryan and Emily Groll would take it to the next level and actually cook the meals for its customers.

Sprout would do all the work. Whether it be breakfast, lunch, dinner, or even a snack, Ryan and Emily identify local farmers within a 200-mile range that produce some of the most exquisite examples of fruit, vegetables, chicken, pork, or beef in the region to produce meals that could be left at your doorstep twice a week.

Fast-forward one year later Sprouts has become an increasingly important provider on the entire Eastern Shore as well is in Annapolis. With Ryan’s mother in Chestertown, the couple continues to seek a local partner to help as a delivery station, which they call a “Sproutlet,” but they hope to cover the entire Mid-Shore within the next two years.

The Spy spent some quality time with Ryan in his portable kitchen in Trappe to discuss the couple’s courage and conviction it took to start a business of this kind and their aspirations over the next few years.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information about Sprouts please go here

Maryland 3.0: Mid-Shore Small Town Businesses Survive with Google Search

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For close to a decade now, small businesses, particularly in rural regions, have handled the internet in two ways. The first is to ignorant it completely, or, more typically the second way, where money is spent on having  a “web presence.” And that normally means a one page homepage. Both strategies, according to Susan Schauer John at SpiderWeb Connections, yield about the same return on investment, which is very little to nothing.

That’s because very few business owners think to optimize their website for Google searches, which goes by the charming name of search engine optimisation. And the bad news is that if your company doesn’t come up on the first page, you might as well not exist since 97% of all web users never go to the second page of results.

In her Spy interview, Susan talks about this important gap in web strategies and what can be done to make sure the best stay at the top.

This video is approximately six minutes in length