Executives offer remedies at forum
Businesses seek stronger county commitment to small ventures
Representatives of the county's business community lent their voices along with 1,000 residents in helping map out a 20-year vision for Prince George's County on Saturday.
Among their priorities: less county government emphasis on wooing outside companies and more on bolstering those already in Prince George's.
"We're trying to get trade with Africa, but what are we doing for the local businesses?" asked Lisa Lincoln of Green reVisions in Cheverly and co-director of the county's Green Power Coalition.
Economic development was one of the six focus areas mined for priority actions at Envision Prince George's at the Prince George's Sports and Learning Center in Landover. Others were housing, education, nonprofits and churches, recreation and sustainability.
The goal was to collect ideas for the Economic Outlook Forum in June. Envision's last countywide forum in 2008 drew more than 300 participants. More than 1,700 registered for Saturday's gathering.
"Small businesses are not doing economic projects here because it's not economically feasible," said Olu Yemisi, director of Olu Yemisi & Company Dancers in Silver Spring. Yemisi lives in the Hyattsville-Takoma Park area.
"I do film and stage production and I don't do much in Prince George's," she said, because she has difficulty landing contracts there. "All of my work is in D.C. and Montgomery County."
Lincoln also called for the county's economic development corporation and chambers of commerce to help promote local independent restaurants by holding their smaller events there.
Clinton resident Juanita Miller cautioned that independent restaurants face high overhead costs compared with chains and fast food restaurants, making it difficult to compete.
Among the county's top economic development priorities, participants listed supporting small business, hosting more federal jobs and strengthening the work force through training and higher education, including multilingual education to enhance the county's global competiveness.
"We need a stronger town space," said Janice Hatcher Liggins, chief steward of Corporate Resource Solutions in Bowie, which provides outsourcing services. "We have so much retail, but we have to be balanced. I want to see more corporate businesses."
L. Terry Carnes, president of Lanham engineering company CECA, speculated that the county's lack of a niche, such as Montgomery's biotech focus, adds to its difficulty in building a greater corporate presence.
"The other counties determine their center and then put resources behind it so they can develop incentive packages. We don't have anything like that," Carnes said.
Prince George's has looked into pursuing its potential as a research zone, given the presence of the University of Maryland and federal research facilities. The county is still studying the value of developing incubation and wet lab space for this field.
Several participants said they were pleased with the opportunity to present their ideas to county officials, something Envision has been soliciting on a smaller scale since last year.
"This is the first time the county has really opened these issues up to citizens. I believe with the momentum exercised over last year and this one, we'll see people really putting something into action," Liggins said.