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

Trump China Trade Policies could Hurt Maryland, Analysts say

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If new Trump administration policies trigger a trade war with China, the port of Baltimore and Maryland could see revenue and job losses, according to analysts.

“Obviously China is a key trading partner. We do a lot of business with China and a lot of other Asian countries,” Richard Scher, director of communications for the Maryland Port Administration (MPA), told Capital News Service.

China ranked as the fifth-highest trading partner in exports and third in imports in 2015, according to the Port of Baltimore’s most recent foreign commerce statistical report. The port oversaw approximately $4 billion worth of materials that were exchanged between the U.S. and China that year.

The economic relationship between the U.S. and China has been trying at times, and yet the two nations remain each other’s largest trading partners.

However, the U.S.’s trade deficit with China reached $367 billion in 2015, according to a report last month from Robert E. Scott, senior economist and director of trade and manufacturing policy research at the Economic Policy Institute, a nonpartisan Washington think tank.

“Put another way, since China entered the World Trade Organization (WTO) in 2001, the U.S. trade deficit with China has increased annually by $20.3 billion, or 11.2 percent, on average,” Scott wrote.

The deficit and President Donald Trump’s unfavorable stances towards China’s trading practices have caused many to speculate about the possibility of a trade war developing between the world’s two largest economies.

“We’ll see how things progress, but we’ve certainly made a lot of investment over the years to have business come over from the Far East,” Scher said.

However, imports into the Port of Baltimore benefit many states in the mid-Atlantic region.

“Certainly a lot of business is done out of the port,” said Benjamin Orr, executive director of the Maryland Center on Economic Policy, located in Baltimore. “But if there is a trade conflict with China, it’s not necessarily that the impact would land on Maryland’s economy specifically. Lots of goods that come into the port end up out of state.”

Orr said that the biggest impact of a potential trade dispute with China would likely be a loss of jobs at the port or in local industries that rely on China for business, such as container shipping companies.

According to Scott’s report, the trade deficit with China caused Maryland to lose 46,000 jobs between 2001 and 2015, approximately 1.6 percent of the state’s total workforce.

Over the 14-year period, Maryland ranked 37th among states in percentage of workforce displaced by the trade deficit with China. Most mid-Atlantic states were not significantly affected.

“The eastern region isn’t particularly susceptible to a trade war with China,” Orr said. “Some effects would be, specifically, prices on Chinese-made goods go up, which could affect Maryland shopping habits and sales tax, and the stock market could fall.”

The White House released its annual trade agenda Wednesday, which indicated that U.S. trade policy under the Trump administration could break from the standards set forth by the WTO.

According to the Washington Post, the agenda suggests the U.S. could impose unilateral tariffs against countries it feels are employing unfair trade practices, such as China.

Trump has accused China of currency and trade manipulation before and has identified the U.S.’s trade deficit with China as something his administration would like to address in future trade discussions, saying he wants to pursue “better deals” with China.

Any conflict would undoubtedly be affected by the two nations jockeying for economic position in the Asia-Pacific region, says Sara Itagaki, project associate in the trade, economic, and energy affairs group with the National Bureau of Asian Research.

In order to establish a strong U.S. economic presence in the Asia-Pacific region, as well as check China’s rising economic power, the Obama administration helped draft the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP), a 12-country economic agreement completed in October 2015.

Trump called the deal “catastrophic” for the American economy during his campaign and effectively withdrew the U.S. from the deal on Jan. 23.

“The TPP was the Obama administration’s prime Asian agreement,” Itagaki said in an interview with Capital News Service. “The withdrawal raises questions about (the U.S.’s) commitment in the southeast Asian region and could hurt U.S. businesses.”

Itagaki said the TPP was “contentious politically” and that there were questions about the agreement from many other politicians.

Despite Trump’s TPP withdrawal, U.S. companies are not retreating from the Pacific, according to Itagaki.

“The U.S. needed a greater presence in the region and missed its chance to anchor its economic influence in southeast Asia,” Itagaki said. “But the U.S. is still a large market for these Southeast Asian countries. They can’t ignore the U.S. economy.”

Of course, those countries cannot ignore the local and increasingly powerful economy of China, either.

China has been promoting its own multinational trade agreement, the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP), which aims to include several countries that would have been a part of the TPP, in hopes of capitalizing on the U.S.’s withdrawal and increasing its own economic presence in the area.

While competitiveness is recognized as a central part of international trade, it remains to be seen how it will affect the way the U.S. and China do business with each other.

However, the economic risk factors are great enough that the chances of a U.S.-China trade war aren’t high, according to Itagaki.

“U.S. consumers gain a lot from trade with China,” Itagaki said. “The government still has issues with China’s economic practices … but there is great benefit in trade with China for the U.S. economy.”

The unpredictability of the Trump administration, along with its proposal to break from traditional WTO trading practices, makes it difficult to foresee how the State Department will approach trade negotiations with China, but Itagaki suggests both sides should hope for a cordial agreement.

“Both governments recognize the value of their trade relationship,” Itagaki said. “Neither economy should want a conflict because both will be hurt in the end.”

By NATE HAROLD

Radcliffe Corporate Services Celebrates 30th Year

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Radcliffe Corporate Services,  a full service Certified Public Accounting firm, located in Chestertown at 870 High Street, is celebrating its 30th anniversary in business.  Founder and President, Randall (Randy) Cooper, CPA, started the firm in 1987. Before launching Radcliffe, Cooper was a Vice-President for Mellon Bank and then Bank of America, working in the U.S. and abroad.  At that time in his life, sailing on the Chesapeake Bay was a haven for him.  When he founded Radcliffe, Cooper envisioned a small firm in a beautiful place with serious quality of life.    Thirty years later Cooper remains enchanted by the beauty of the Eastern Shore and the opportunity to live near the Chesapeake but also muses, “I’ve never worked so hard, and I haven’t been sailing in ages.”  

In 2008, the firm undertook a major renovation of the Radcliffe Mill building complex in Chestertown.  “It was a huge financial, personal and business commitment to preserving a Kent County landmark,” explained Cooper.  The property, which is on the National Register of Historic Properties, is a well-known landmark off the High Street circle.  It has added value to the community not only for unique office space it houses but also as the location of two locally prized restaurants:  first Brooks Tavern and currently the popular Café Sado.  Soon the Seed House, another building in the complex, will open as a wellness center, adding another chapter to the Mill restoration story.  “I’m proud that we made this investment, but the project was far more involved than any of us could have imagined,” says Cooper.

Over the years Radcliffe Corporate Services has gained respect regionally for its accounting expertise and now employs 20 professionals working in four distinct business units.  Myles Loller, CPA and Partner, has been with the firm for over 20 years.  Loller, who was born and raised in Kent County has developed strong relationships with businesses and individuals across the region and nationally.  “The great thing about a firm like Radcliffe is that we work closely with clients to help them understand tax situations to make sound decisions.”  

Maureen Karns, CPA, and Larissa Davidson, CPA, oversee the attestation and auditing services for the firm, as well as providing tax and accounting for individuals and businesses.  Karns notes, “There is no other firm in Kent County certified to perform the auditing services we do.”  Larissa Davidson, CPA, works with Karns in the auditing department.  Karns and Davidson share a special interest in working with regional non-profit organizations.  “It is especially satisfying to use our skills working with local organizations providing services to the community,” said Davidson.

In 2002, Radcliffe launched a financial services department offering financial planning and investment advisory services.  “Investments are one of my areas of special interest that bring into play tax planning, investment and portfolio analysis.” says Cooper.  In 2015, Sarah Schut, investment advisor representative, joined the firm to expand the financial services department.  Schut highlights that Radcliffe’s commitment to providing unbiased tax and financial planning.  Radcliffe works with Cetera Financial Specialists LLC, Radcliffe’s independent broker/dealer firm.  Securities offered through Cetera Financial Specialists LLC, member FINRA/SIPC.  Advisory services offered through Cetera Investment Advisers LLC.  Cetera entities are under separate ownership from any other named entity.  

One of Radcliffe’s major divisions provides financial management and CFO services a large behavioral health organization that provides mental health services in four states.  Recently, Radcliffe has been engaged to manage Kent Center Inc., which provides residential and day program services for adults with intellectual and developmental disability, adding to the firm’s broad spectrum of services.

“I couldn’t have imagined the scope of Radcliffe when I started it,” says Cooper.  In the coming year, Radcliffe plans to host several events celebrating the anniversary, including a talk about the historic significance of the mill building and the restoration process.  

 

Mid-Shore Arts: Carla Massoni’s “Little Demons” in Chestertown

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Carla Massoni is the first to credit her friend and artist Kenneth Schiano for the title of a new art show at Massoni’s gallery on High Street in Chestertown starting this month called “Little Demons.” It was Ken’s way of describing those nagging and relentless self-reminders coming from within that he needs to push harder with his art.  

And while that might sound like rather negative, Schiano was using the term with its original Greek meaning in mind, which is closer to divine inspiration or a form of happiness rather than a fallen angel. In Ken’s world, his demons motivate him to produce more challenging art. 

Carla saw that these demons could be seen with a number of artists she has worked with at certain points in their careers, and she therefore called upon Schiano and gallery artists Karen Hubacher, Claire McArdle, Zemma Mastin White, Leigh Wen, Katherine K. Allen, Anne Leighton Massoni and Deborah Weiss to be part of this winter show.  She also recruited other artists she has admired to participate like the multi-talented Joe Karlik,  Raphael Sassi and Sara Bakken.

The Spy spoke to Carla at her gallery a few days ago to get a better sense how constructive “Little Demons” in the process of creating art.

This video is approximately four minutes in length. For more information about “Little Demons” please go here

 

The Business of Mentoring: Chesapeake Bank and Chesapeake Investment Advisors Join Forces

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While it is true there is no binding contract or plans to merge two of Chestertown’s most active financial advisor practices; the Spy was nonetheless intrigued by a partnership recently announced between Kristen Owen at Chesapeake Bank and Trust and Marty Knight of Chesapeake Investment Advisors the other day.

In the great tradition of mentoring, it established an informal link between Kristen, a relative newcomer to the world of financial advice services after playing several other roles in her eleven years with Chesapeake Bank, and Marty, the seasoned professional, who took over Chesapeake Investment Advisors on Spring Street from Robert and Joanne Gearheart several years ago after he retired from his first career in law enforcement with the Maryland State Police.

In this short Spy interview, Kristen and Marty talk about the role of mentoring in the sensitive but rewarding field of individual financial portfolio management as they start to consult almost every day on the best investment vehicles for their growing list of clients.

This video is approximately three minutes in length

Dreaming a Business: J.R. Alfree has Plans to Renovate High Street Building

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Local restaurateur and entrepreneur J. R. Alfree has a dream, and he’s serious about making it happen.

Faced with sky-high costs for maintenance, patchwork repairs, and upgrades, Alfree wants to completely renovate his 27,000 sg ft building on High St. and turn it into a multi-use venue for wedding receptions, six B and B type apartments, and a cake, candy and ice cream shop.

Alfree bought the building, home to the popular Lemon Leaf Café and JR’s Past-Time Pub, two years ago, after moving from his start-up restaurant on Cross Street.

“All that space is empty, so what do I do? Instead of saying the building is falling apart, I say the building has so much potential.”

While considering his options, he was introduced to architect Peter Allen, Peter Allen Construction Management, who knows the High Street building and has been involved with other Chestertown renovation work including Widehall on Water Street. A third, commercial architect Joseph Skinner, Skinner Associates, joined in the conversation and who also recognized the potential in overhauling the structure to take advantage of the rest of the building.

“Within a few minutes, we formed a team that wants to take this building to the next level. I think it’s something that Chestertown needs. I think there’s a need for places for people to stay, and a venue space for wedding receptions, banquets, and live music.”

The three worked together to design a basic structural plan to accommodate the overhaul and expansion.

“We’d try to finish the work in phases to try not to disrupt the current businesses,” Allen says. “It’s a big commercial project. The roof, for example, would have to be completely replaced along with the structural rebuilding. Even then, the group foresees only a day or two of closures during the construction.

Alfree understands a community’s sensitivity to change. For decades, like Andy’s, the back room was Chestertown’s iconic hotspot and venue for professional musicians.

“Some might look at this change as the wrong thing to do with this room—it has a lot of history—but it’s the only right thing to do to save the entire building. You have to understand we’re trying to protect the emotional connection, but it does have to be altered in the long run.”

Despite projected costs of up to a million dollars for the project, Alfree has researched and connected with a list of available loans.

“The thing that I want to say about Kent County is the six years I’ve been here is that there are more resources to help you grow your business than ever before. When I first moved here from Cross Street, I received funding from the Greater Chestertown Initiative, an amazing program,” he says.

Afree points out that various loan opportunities also exist from programs like PACE (Property Assessed Clean Energy) financing available for energy efficiency upgrades and renewable energy installations, along with casino money used to reinvest in local communities.

“The investment group visited Chestertown, fell in love with it, and read our business plan and we’ve developed a great dialogue with them,” Alfree said.

Some might call it risk taking,  but Alfree is quick to recite the history of Dixon Valve’s founder, HW Goodall who at 15 in 1887 quit school to become an errand boy for a company in Philadelphia. Goodall began to design hose couplings but was fired for being too ambitious. Rather than seeing the job loss as a setback, the young man started his own company.

“He saw an opportunity after weighing the needs in his industry. Am I taking a risk? I don’t think so, but every achievement holds a risk,” Alfree says.

The Spy talked with J.R. last Friday.

This video is approximately 6 minutes long.

Chesapeake Investment Services and Chesapeake Investment Advisors Begin New Partnership

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Screen Shot 2017-01-15 at 9.32.55 AMMartin Knight, owner of Chesapeake Investment Advisors and Kristen Owen, of Chesapeake Investment Services (a division of Chesapeake Bank and Trust Company) are pleased to announce a new partnership which will provide valued clients with a team approach to financial planning and investment services. Both Martin and Kristen are licensed to sell securities and offer investment advice, and have over twenty years of combined experience building relationships and serving clients in Chestertown. Martin and Kristen will maintain separate offices but work together under the same broker-dealer, Geneos Wealth Management. With no proprietary products, Martin and Kristen have the flexibility to offer their clients the best solutions to their unique needs.

Martin has been offering financial planning and investment advice for over 11 years. He took over Chesapeake Investment Advisors from former owners Bob and JoAnne Gerhardt upon their retirement in 2008. He has over $48 million in assets under management. Martin is a Certified Financial Planner™ and has passed the Series 7, 24, 31 and 66 exams, and holds a life & health insurance license.

Kristen has been with Chesapeake Bank and Trust for over 11 years and has served as Investment Adviser Representative since February 2015. Kristen has passed the Series 7 and 66 exams and holds a life & health insurance license. Highly active in our local community, Kristen is President of Downtown Chestertown Association and a member of the boards of Garfield Center for the Arts and Chestertown Main Street.

Glenn Wilson, President of Chesapeake Bank and Trust Company, remarked “Kristen and I are very excited that we’ll be working with Marty to help our clients pursue their financial dreams and goals. Marty’s experience and expertise in the field of financial planning and advising will be a complement to Kristen’s strong relationship skills and help build on Chesapeake’s strong financial services foundation.”

“I am pleased to be working with Chesapeake Bank and Trust, which is so highly respected in this market,” said Mr. Knight. “Our firms share a commitment to our clients and a focus on tailoring solutions to meet individual needs, which makes us well-suited for a partnership.”

Chesapeake Investment Advisors is located at 106 Spring Avenue, and Chesapeake Investment Services is located at 245 High Street, both in Chestertown’s Historic District. For more information, or to schedule an appointment, you can contact Martin at 410-810-0735 or Kristen at 410-778-1600.

Securities and Advisory Services offered through Geneos Wealth Management, Inc. Member FINRA/SIPC

One Small Step for Man; One Large Leap for Internet: ThinkBig Networks Cuts the Ribbon

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ThinkBig Network celebrated their Grand Opening last Friday to much fanfare and lines of people signing up for the new high speed fiber optic broadband internet service.

For years Kent County has sought answers to rural internet problems. Businesses and households have long been stymied by the inability to access high speeds while many have had to try satellite dishes while others had no internet at all.

In February 2016, Kent County contracted FTS Fiber of Ocean City to bring in “dark fiber” from Rock Hall to Millington and surrounding areas offering service providers to offer a bridge between the fast fiber network to homes and business.

“One of the best ways to explain fiber optics speed is to know that fiber is not distance sensitive like copper. Let’s compare something like the download speeds for something like a 2-hour movie. If you have the fasted speed offered by your current broadband service provider, say 20Mbps (megabit per second) it would take approximately 10.5 minutes. With fiber optics with the speed of 1000 Mbps (one gigabit)—which is what we offer—the same movie would take 8s. The same movie in HD would take about 25 seconds,” Marketing Director Jennifer Lafleur says.

One time hook up charges are $400 to residential households and monthly fees are $99. Business hook-up charges vary according to needs.

During the Grand Opening, their office showed live-view examples of non-buffered 4K TVs and 3-D gaming as representatives talked to customers about the advantages of using a fiber optics connection.

ThinkBig is located at 903 Washington Avenue, Suite 5, next to the new Auto-Parts Store (old Happy Harry’s) and is open Monday through Friday 9:00-5:00. sales@thinkbignets.com  888.318.1372

 

Benchworks Notes Expansion

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Benchworks, a comprehensive marketing services agency in Chestertown , held a grand opening at its newest division, Agency LRB on October 20. The well-attended event took place at the Agency LRB offices in the trendy Fishtown area of Philadelphia. Benchworks recently secured this additional 2,000 square feet of space due to the agency’s expansion.

screen-shot-2016-11-08-at-1-54-33-pmThe name of the new division reflects the initials of Benchworks CEO Thad Bench’s father, Leigh R. Bench. LRB firmly believed in the value of a strong work ethic, the importance of character and a commitment to the highest standards of corporate relationships.

When asked about the event, Thad Bench said, “Agency LRB is the latest addition to the Benchworks’ family of businesses. The Philadelphia location is ideal for reaching our growing client roster. Plus, it gives us access to exceptional creative talent, which produces marketing solutions for our clients that get results. The agency name honors my father’s legacy and I know he would be proud of what our team has accomplished.”

Melissa Johnston, president of Benchworks, commented on the Agency LRB event saying, “I am very excited about our new location in Fishtown. Our expansion is a testament to the hard work of the entire Benchworks team, their dedication to our clients and the ongoing support of their marketing programs. We are looking forward to contributing to the economic growth of the Fishtown area as it continues to evolve as a creative hub.”