Prince George’s business leaders generally are warm to the group named Friday to advise the county in awarding its new $50 million economic incentive fund to spur development, but with some reservations.
The seven members of the new Financial Advisory Committee are tasked with reviewing and providing credit guidance to the county’s chief administrative officer on applications for loans and grants from the fund, which was the economic development centerpiece of County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D)’s legislative agenda last year.
The fund, which became operational in March, is designed to award money to projects that bolster business development and employment in the county.
“I think all of the appointments are reasonable and meet the requirements set forth in the law,” said Kelley Pierce, executive director of the Greater Bowie Chamber of Commerce. “I think the group will do an outstanding job in making sure the money is well managed.”
The members were selected from 39 applicants, following credit and background checks that prolonged the selection process, said David Iannucci, assistant chief administrative officer for the county's economic development team. The law that established the fund requires the committee comprise independent financial service professionals experienced in banking, finance, real estate, commercial development, accounting or business. Members serve five-year terms with no compensation.
The county already has received 20 project applications for the program, and plans to bring them to the new committee this week for recommendations, Iannucci said, with the first award expected by the end of July.
“I didn’t see anyone that stuck out to be a problem. It looked like a good list,” said M.H. Jim Estepp, president and CEO of the Greater Prince George’s Business Roundtable. “These are not the normal names you see, and maybe that’s a good thing.”
The members are Rochelle S. Andrews, president of professional services organization Vizion Group in Capitol Heights; Earl W. Checkley, a controller in Deloitte Consulting’s federal government services practice; Kimmey Doney, vice president of Wells Fargo Bank in Upper Marlboro; Mia N. Pittman, a bank examiner with the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp.; Timothy Sanders, president of Capital Lending and Mortgage Group; Dion W. Smith, vice president and commercial loan officer with Old Line Bank in Bowie; and Maurice C. Taylor, vice president for university operations at Morgan State University.
More information about the committee is available online at cms.princegeorgescountymd.gov/ExecutiveNews.
“I think we have been very cautious in reviewing each committee applicant. We’re trying to get different individuals from different organizations to work together,” Iannucci said. “We’ve been cautious over speedy. We’ve been driving 35 [mph] trying not to hit the cones. Now, we will pick up to hit the speed limit.”
Estepp also said the group presents a good perspective on how a bank or financial institution would deal with or look at whether a project is a good deal for the county.
“Anytime you have citizen involvement on the expenditure of public funds, it’s a good thing,” he said.
But M.A. “Mike” Little of B&W Solutions in Oxon Hill and a prominent figure in Prince George’s business community, questions whether the appointees are equipped to understand the nature of development projects, a major component of economic development.
“I was looking for not just loan experience but the understanding of the nature of these projects and the kind of business they would be. In my mind, that would be important,” Little said. “I find myself confused.”
Four appointees have experience in real estate banking, Iannucci said, while another has fundraising experience in the nonprofit area.
“We wanted strong experience in commercial lending and real estate. But we also wanted diversity,” Iannucci said. “Lending is a big part as opposed to development.”
Little said he was uncertain about whether the group could provide direction regarding the fund’s redevelopment goals.
“They certainly have strong credentials. I’m just not sure the experience is something matched to fund new business and new developments,” he said.
Estepp said if the makeup of the committee becomes a problem, the business community could bring it up to the county.
“This committee is a good complement to the program itself and will give an outside feel as to whether the projects are sound,” he said.
Other business leaders, such as Odessa Hopkins of the CEO Business Café in Greenbelt and a board member of the Prince George’s Chamber of Commerce, lamented that all of the appointees were required by law to be chosen by the adminstration, with none selected by the business community or local chambers of commerce.
This perpetuates the concern that the fund will not do enough to help small businesses, she said.
“The bottom line is that unless the fund provides an opportunity for small-business owners whom, due to the housing situation and failed economy, can apply for the loan with blemished credit, too many of those most in need of the assistance will not benefit from it,” Hopkins wrote in an email to The Gazette. “I believe this is why there is no buzz about the fund in Prince George's County — at least not in the small-business community.”
The new appointees said they were eager to get started.
“It’s a rare opportunity to utilize my skills set as a financial service professional to give back to the community where I live,” said Sanders of Bowie.
Sanders said he has been involved in similar financing initiatives in Washington, D.C., so he understands their benefit first-hand.
He has more than 10 years of experience in health care lending and more than 20 years of experience in commercial finance.
“What’s needed here is a cross-section of the community,” Taylor said, referring to his spot on the committee as the only nonfinance member. “If all you wanted was bankers, you could just appoint those.”
Iannucci said Taylor brings “gravitas” to the committee with his 29 years in the business of higher education, particularly budget and financing.
Taylor added the committee also will have a watchdog role.
“We are all responsible for a good government. You need to be willing to participate in the process,” Taylor said.”There’s often suspicion over the use of public tax dollars. We will serve as a Good Housekeeping seal. We have no stake in this.”