By Katie V. Jones
More than 28 business owners attended the Laurel Board of Trade’s first ever roundtable event with the city mayor and city department heads on Jan. 11. The informal event provided an opportunity for businesses and city employees to share their concerns, listen to suggestions and learn about each other.
Everything from promoting grants to concerns about speeding vehicles on Main Street, increased litter and the desire for more green space was discussed in an amicable manner with both the city officials and business owners offering advice.
“Our job is to make sure we are assisting and working with you,” Mayor Craig Moe told the crowd. “Our job is to make sure we are providing the services.”
The Laurel Board of Trade has a “close connection with city officials,” according to Marilyn Johnson, president of the board, and its officers meet monthly with the mayor and different department heads to discuss issues that are then shared in the group’s monthly newsletters.
Membership, Johnson said, “Is really, really beneficial. We have lots of information to share to help you keep moving forward and to keep black in the books.”
The group offers monthly networking sessions, a website that regularly highlights members and a chance to create a 15-minute television spot for Laurel TV. It sets up tables at city events and also sponsors its own events, including the Main Street Festival, Riverfest and Trick or Treat on Main Street.
“All of this is done to help promote businesses,” said Jim Cross, chairman. “We had 2,500 people go down the street during trick or treating. Marketing, marketing, marketing is the main theme.”
Businesses helping each other is not new, Cross said. Before it was incorporated in the early 1980s, The Laurel Board of Trade was known as the Main Street Merchant Association and before that, the Laurel Chamber of Commerce. Its members hail not only from the city, but the surrounding area as well, including Hyattsville, Beltsville and Linthicum Heights.
“Small business is tough, especially if it is just one person or two or three,” Cross said. “It takes up a lot of time. People who run and own a business do everything. It’s stressful.”
During the pandemic, the board helped the city get information out to its members about the various grants available to them as well as new ordinances allowing outdoor dining.
“People are still getting it but we figured out how to deal with it,” said Cross, of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of the group’s meetings are now held virtually, he admitted, but are also hybrid, with some members attending in The Laurel Board of Trade office on Main Street and others virtually.
Members are encouraged to share ideas, Johnson said, noting that one member would like to start a window-decorating contest during the holidays. The group is hoping to revive its summer farmers market, which ended in 2019 after 23 years.
“They are a brilliant force in uniting the community. Not just the business community but the entire community,” said Cesar Cucufate, economic development coordinator for the city. “I think that they are a good forum for business owners and city officials to communicate through. I actively encourage all businesses within the city of Laurel to join.”
There is another benefit to meeting and getting to know other business owners, Johnson said.
“If you have something happen, you know who to call,” Johnson said.