This series examining developments in local business is underwritten by the Howard County Economic Development Authority. The mission of the Howard County Economic Development Authority is to promote economic growth and stability in Howard County by supporting existing businesses, attracting targeted new businesses, and attracting corporate and/or regional headquarters; to serve as the liaison between public and private economic development and planning organizations; and to recommend policies to County government that support the achievement of planned economic goals.
These articles are written independently, with no outside editorial control, by Mark R. Smith, Senior Writer.
It’s admirable to offer help gratis during a crisis, but it can also pay. Just ask Soo Park.
The CEO of JastinTech, of the Maryland Innovation Center, was running Jastin as an information technology company when COVID-19 shook the world. But with so many companies struggling through the pandemic, Park started making promotional items like stickers and signs. For free.
The recipients of his goodwill loved the items ― and started paying for them. Thus, Jastin doubled its previous revenues and hit the $2 million mark for 2023.
“We can print as few as one item on-demand,” said Park. “With most companies, there’s a minimum order, but we can still offer the same low price as when the client buys in bulk, thanks to our digital printer. It’s expensive, but we can make our numbers work because it’s constantly in use and we obtain materials directly from the manufacturers, which include Nike, Under Armour and The North Face.” Addressing that unexpected new market spurred Jastin’s move into the MIC last year, which was more like a pit stop; Jastin will soon relocate to larger quarters at Corporate Court on Route 40 in Ellicott City’s Koreatown.
Unified Home Group, Savage Mill
The year is off to a good start at Unified Home Group. Karriem Hopwood, the team leader of the division of Cornerhouse Realty, said his group placed five houses under contract during the first weeks of 2024.
“With interest rates dropping and people understanding that higher rates of around 6 percent are the new norm after we were pushing 8 percent a year ago,” said Hopwood, “business has picked up.”
As for those historically low rates of 2020 to 2022, “I know people who got a 15-year note at 1.75%. About 85% of people have an interest rate of lower than 4 percent, which we call ‘golden handcuffs,’” he said. “Who’d want to give that rate up?”
So people are moving more now due to necessity ― work, divorce, death ― “which is always the case, anyway,” said Hopwood, who has run UHG for three years. His staff recently doubled in number to 14 and works out of 2,100 square feet in Savage Mill’s Carding Building, as annual revenues have risen to $34 million.“We only need so much space because most realtors don’t go into an office,” he said, “but we do love to come in and collaborate.”
‘Never stopped sewing’
Leona’s Sewing Studio, Savage Mill
With sewing somewhat of a lost art, Ireatha Leona Woods, owner of Leona’s Sewing Studio, is providing a needed service while supporting her craft. Therefore, she monitors her workload carefully. “I don’t have more than I can handle,” she said. “I manage it.”
Woods has been doing just that in the Mill’s Carding Building for eight years, focusing on custom work for clients from religious organizations to liturgical dancer sectors to various others. While she teaches all levels of sewing, “My heartthrob,” she said, “is my Future Designers of America program.”
For her efforts, last year she was celebrated by the Baltimore Museum of Industry for the success of the program, “which has had five graduates in the last two years, two of whom are on to higher education,” Woods said. “Some go on to be fashion designers.”
As for her location, she’s “proud to keep the Mill’s textile legacy alive. Coming here is the smartest decision that I could have made,” she said, after a varied 35-year corporate career, where she worked in information technology, telecom, pharmaceuticals, etc.
But during those days, she’s “never stopped sewing,” Woods said. “Opening my place was a dream since I was 10. Today, I’m optimistic about sewing’s future.”
BLTeas/Heron’s Meadow Farm, Woodbine
Lori Baker and her husband Bob purchased the 44-acre Heron’s Meadow Farm in December 2013 with the intent of offering the local market something new: a tea farm. They grow what a scientist would call camellia sinensis and opened a tea shop on site in 2015.
But they knew that growing tea leaves takes as much time as growing Christmas trees, which is to say several years; and that Maryland has a less-than-optimal climate for doing so, due to the change of seasons.
“It took about five years to harvest a batch after investing $6-$8 per each of 1,200 seedlings across about six acres,” said Baker. “That’s why what we sell is often imported to satisfy demand from patrons and boutique locations like The Inn at Mary’s Land Farm, Clarksville Flower Station and the Elkridge Furnace Inn.
“We also sell pottery” to make ends meet, she said, and the couple is further diversifying their offerings after their already more than $1 million investment. “Recently we’ve sectioned off an acre to grow nut trees,” Baker said, “and just bought seedlings of various varieties. But as for the tea, our end goal is still to sell what we produce on the farm.”
A growing business
Queen’s Temple Handmade, Columbia
When Richelle Johnson moved to Columbia in 2016, she was happy to have a local option to buy those sweet-smelling, but pricey, bar soaps at Whole Foods via a local manufacturer. But little did she know that her relocation would kick start her handmade body care and aromatherapy business, Queen’s Temple Handmade, to new heights.
“Then in 2019, a Whole Foods employee told me about Laura Bacon, CEO of The 3rd. I met Laura, appreciated her vision and, even though she hadn’t leased her space yet,” she said, “I thought The 3rd would take me where I needed to go.”
Johnson’s hunch proved prescient. “Things changed for me immediately,” she said. “We started doing pop-up kiosks and other events, which led to my receiving a $5,000 grant from the HoCo Higher entrepreneur accelerator program; then to partnerships with M&T Bank and Busboys & Poets, followed by free Circle Membership in the Maryland Innovation Center.
Since founding QTH about 10 years ago, Johnson has invested about $65,000 more of her own money and it’s paying off. “I’m now looking to acquire a line of credit from M&T, start offering interactive classes and search for a retail space,” she said, “where I can collaborate with other women of color.”
A message from Howard County Economic Development Authority
Howard County Executive Calvin Ball and Councilmember Yungmann unveiled the Office of Agriculture (OoA) at West Friendship Park, which will bring agricultural resources closer to Howard County’s farming community. Aligned with the HoCo By Design plan, the OoA is Maryland’s third and strategically consolidates the county’s diverse agriculture-facing functions into one location, amplifies coordination and impact and fosters a closer connection between agricultural resources the farming community. The OoA is dedicated to celebrating Howard County’s rich agricultural heritage by providing distinctive amenities and advancing agricultural education. The OoA will play a pivotal role in fortifying and uplifting Howard County’s indispensable agricultural sector. For any questions, please contact James Zoller at [email protected].