By ANDREW MACKENZIE FELLOWS
From my years of experience as a resident, including a dozen as mayor and a council member, of College Park, Maryland, I know that my community puts significant value on small, non-chain, locally owned businesses. The local Starbucks may be appreciated, but the Bagel Place at the corner of College and Baltimore Avenue has a special place in our hearts. Listening to the rhetoric of political candidates of all political leanings suggests that everyone is a champion of small business. Yet the market and policy frameworks in which small businesses operate are a challenge to their success.
During the six years (2009–2015) I was the mayor of College Park, almost every conversation regarding proposed new developments included a discussion of how we might support existing small businesses through our decisions. Embedded in those deliberations was the general understanding that it is often challenging for small businesses to survive competition with chains that have a larger volume to absorb costs and a larger marketing budget. Finding customers, retaining them, and building market share are harder for mom and pop businesses without marketing departments, ad campaigns, and/or various analytics to create efficient marketing opportunities.
Immediately next to UMD College Park are four municipalities (College Park, Hyattsville, Riverdale Park, and University Park—and unincorporated County communities such as Adelphi, Beltsville, and College Heights Estates. Each of these communities has distinct characteristics served by a variety of nearby small businesses. Part of what creates a sense of community is the shopping in local neighborhoods that goes on as a regular part of daily life.
KNEXT (a shortened version of Knowledge Extension) is a project of the University of Maryland’s (UMD) College of Information Studies (the iSchool) and Kent State University designed to increase the capacity of small businesses to compete with larger competitors that have the advantage of significantly more resources for market research and analysis. Kent State will be working in Cuyahoga County, Ohio, while the UMD will be focusing efforts on communities near the College Park campus. Partnering with the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System, local small businesses, and business-supportive institutions, the iSchool launched the project on March 9, 2018 with a gathering of leaders from these organizations to discuss the opportunities it presents.
Initial efforts focus on identifying the current status of technological support of small business in Prince George’s County and surrounding communities. KNEXT staff will be conducting comprehensive surveys designed to assess the extent to which business research needs are being met, identifying the existing gap, and creating a plan to fill that gap.
This summer, the KNEXT project will be following up with these leaders, as well as those who were unable to attend, to begin the comprehensive assessment. We’re looking forward to working with our community partners, strengthening our relationship with the Prince George’s County Memorial Library System, and supporting local businesses.
If you have a question, want more information, or have a suggestion, please contact the KNEXT team at email@example.com. We look forward to hearing from you!