It took perhaps an extraordinary entrepreneurial leap of faith in 2010 to open the doors of Jody Davis Designs, a woman’s boutique at 110 W. Saratoga Street in the midst of the country’s worst economic downturn since the Great Depression.

“Business, it’s still challenging – up and down – but, I’m still thankful to continue to be moving forward,” said Jody Davis, who owns the store with her business and life partner, Kevin Scott. Scott also owns and operates a men’s boutique, Benedetto Haberdashery at 324 Park Avenue, around the corner from Davis’ store on Saratoga.

Recently, at a meeting in Charles Village with other small business owners of color, Davis and Scott learned how an allocated slice of the state’s slot machine revenues could provide much needed capital for their retail ventures as the country’s lethargic economic recovery continues.

The Maryland Casino Business Investment Fund (MCBIF) was established as part of the 2008 Maryland General Assembly legislation that ultimately brought slot machines to race tracks and casinos in Maryland and it calls for 1.5 percent of all gambling proceeds to be designated for businesses of color, small businesses and women-owned businesses.

“This fund is to provide an alternative to bank financing and to have standards that are less strenuous than bank financing,” said Randy Croxton, fund manager for Meridian Management Group, one of three fund managers assigned by the state to provide financial assistance to qualified businesses.

Many of the businesses targeted for funding historically have had difficulty securing loans and the Great Recession, which began in 2008, has made the process of obtaining capital for these businesses even more challenging.

“It’s (Great Recession) curtailed business start-ups, it’s also curtailed the growth of businesses, so it has had an impact,” he said.

MCBIF will provide about $7.8 million in funding initially (it began distributing loans in May), but according to Croxton the pool of money in the fund is expected to expand over time.

“That fund is going to be added on to each year at those levels and hopefully higher because of more (gambling) facilities being on board, that’s going to be continuous…access to capital for small businesses,” Croxton said.

Arnold Williams, a certified public accountant with the firm of Abrams, Foster, Nole & Williams helped facilitate the meeting of the business owners and Meridian Management Group.

“They (Meridian Management Group) understand the issues that small and minority businesses go through. In the economic times – especially since 2008 – small and minority businesses have been hit harder than anyone admits or publically recognizes,” said Williams who also helped advocate on behalf of some of business owners in attendance.

“What I know in servicing small and minority businesses is that they have questions that they want to know the answer to, but often times won’t ask those questions or don’t know how to frame them,” he said.

“The role I wanted to play was to make sure all of the hard questions got on the table,” Williams added.

Entrepreneurs like Jody Davis and Kevin Scott hope the right questions lead to vital capital.

“It would help with my cash flow…to help me be on target with my production,” Davis said.

“I have to pay for my collection before I sell one piece…this season I came in late because of the finances, juggling trying to make ends meet,” added Davis, who graduated from the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York in the early 90’s and has been working at her craft ever since. She and Scott plan to keep growing in the fashion industry they both love.

“We’re looking to move into a location where Kevin and I can be in the same space,” Davis said.

“That funding will help us to grow and expand…and help us to hire some people because both of us are running our businesses solo and you can’t do everything.”

Sean Yoes

AFRO Baltimore Editor