Big League Partner

Sledge House Media, Columbia

For Edward and Christina Sledge, the inspiration for Sledge House Media’s latest book struck back in 1986. It happened when young Ed saw a coupon for a ticket to a New York Mets baseball game available on, of all things, a box of Kellogg’s Frosted Flakes.

But it was just this past Jan. 31 that Sledge House Media published A Day at Shea ― and saw it shoot to the top of the new release and bestseller lists on It’s about a day watching the Mets at Shea Stadium for a nine-year-old African American girl named Chris who gets a ticket in just that fashion, but had no one to take her to the game.

However, Chris does find her way to the stadium (as did young Ed, in real life) from their native Brooklyn.

It only made sense when the couple sent a copy of the book to a Mets minor league affiliate, the Brooklyn Cyclones, and Sledge House is now sponsoring the team’s reading program; it then caught the eye of Mets organization and they’ve become a partner, too.

With more than 200 copies already sold, the Sledges are excited to have tapped a new market. “This is the start,” said Christina Sledge, “of a series of sports books.”

Expanding to Florida

Bandito’s Tacos & Tequila, Columbia

It only made sense for Banditos to open its eighth location on Cinco de Mayo 2023, which Operating Partner Justin Weir said was fueled by the success of its seventh location, which opened in Maple Lawn just six months earlier.

Weir said the expansion to the Merriweather District brings “our fun concept to the market with funky, fusion-flavored tacos,” with its first menu update set for April.
“We don’t market ourselves as a traditional Mexican restaurant. Our decor is very colorful, with walls that are adorned with various (for sale) works of a local painter,” he said, calling the vibe “high energy during the spring and summer, on weekends and when there’s a concert” at nearby Merriweather Post Pavilion.

Bandito’s also debuted its food truck about two years ago. But today, with financial expectations met, the focus is on its ninth brick-and-mortar location, and first outside of Maryland.

“There are still plans to add locations in the Baltimore-Washington region, but our next stop will be in Sarasota, Florida, the spring training home of the Orioles,” said Weir, “so we kicked off the recent Orioles Caravan in Columbia. The O’s, the warmer weather and the improved tax situation all played into our decision.”

Brett Benz, chief operating officer at American Bully Manufacturing in Annapolis Junction, stands in a workshop with some Haas CNC milling machines. Brett is optimistic the company will move to a larger facility soon. (TBM / Jason Whong)

Outgrowing its space

American Bully Manufacturing, Annapolis Junction

The main question today at American Bully Manufacturing is if the company has outgrown its 6,000-square-foot space at 10983 Guilford Road and will move by late 2024. Brett Benz is optimistic that will happen.

Benz, the company’s chief operating officer, said the eight-year-old manufacturing solutions provider that operates near The National Business Park offers a full range of services. “We collaborate with clients to grasp their specific requirements and deliver comprehensive support throughout the manufacturing journey.”

With more than 25 years of collective expertise between Benz, CEO Andrew Sherman and others, ABM offers design, prototyping, production, assembly and quality control services.

It employs a technical staff of eight who work on three Haas Computer Numerically Controlled machines, with a WaterJet cutter that cuts two-dimensional shapes; that equates to great flexibility for the company and its clients.

Recent projects of note include assisting Balti Virtual, a Maryland company that designs and manufactures enclosures for augmented reality kiosks for the Baltimore Ravens and several other major league sports franchises.

As for a move, Benz said ABM’s intent is to stay local, “due to the costs of moving the machinery, our central location and because most of our employees grew in Howard County.”

New technologies

Technology Advancement Center, Columbia

The Corridor is home to a number of incubators and accelerators, most of which have the same basic function: to grow local startups from within the state and demonstrate how unique new companies can diversify the business and tax bases.
What makes the Technology Advancement Center “kind of unique,” said Senior Project and Contracts Manager TC Hoot, “is the way we function.”

The nonprofit TAC opened in January 2019 in Columbia Gateway Business Park “and focuses on all things cyber, in three ways: We engage small business, academia and workforce development,” said Hoot, “as well as hold STEM events with proof of concepts for various customers, be they business or government.”

And like most such organizations, the plan is “to promote multiple programs while strengthening the ecosystem for small businesses,” he said, “by developing new technologies or prototyping products for government customers.

“Much of what we do has never been done, such as creating a prototype for a mission partner environment,” said Hoot “that allows for participants with varying security clearances the same network.”

What else is on the TAC agenda? Hacking events, that’s what. “We’ve hacked a hospital, a port, a railroad and various buildings,” he said, “and we’re now preparing to hack a dual-use airport.”

Best years ever

Benchmark Clothiers, Savage Mill

Benchmark Clothiers has operated from Savage Mill for several years with a good degree of success. But after March 2020, people who were suddenly working at home didn’t often need new threads.

“But as the economy reopened,” said Professional Clothier Art Solop, “and some workers returned to the office, my business returned, too. In fact, the past two years have been my best.”

Solop handles all fitting and styling of custom suits and shirts (along with other services) by appointment from his 350-square foot space at the Mill, where he has “a couple of thousand types of fabric swatches” to choose from. His visions are then shipped to a factory in Colombia, in South America. His prices for the finished suits start at $925.

Benchmark’s business is often tailored toward certain niches, including customers who are “fit challenged” and others who’ve added what’s been called ‘the COVID 15,’ “so they needed bigger clothes after their weight gain,” he said. Others include couples who had to postpone their nuptials during the shutdown and have married since.

Solop also garners “a good amount of business” from the LGBTQ+ market. “They don’t have many options for tailored clothing,” he said. “Sometimes there are females who want a suit, for instance, tailored for a man.”

A message from Howard County Economic Development Authority

Skin-Tonic and The Hair Solutionz Studio recently opened locations in Columbia thanks to the support of HCEDA’s LIFT Fund loan. With this financial boost, businesses have been able to strategically invest in marketing initiatives, procure necessary supplies and expand their teams. The LIFT Fund loan has also facilitated the coverage of improvement costs, enabling these businesses to create welcoming spaces for their customers. Through the LIFT Fund loan, we continue to empower aspiring entrepreneurs and support the growth of small businesses, fostering economic development and innovation in Howard County.

Exploring business financing in Howard County? Securing additional funding is a common hurdle for small businesses. Reach out to us today at [email protected] to kickstart your journey towards financial empowerment and business growth.

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