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Asian business owners see challenges, rewards

Monday - 2/27/2012, 2:00am  ET


Sharad Doshi said business owners in general, regardless of their race or ethnicity, face the same sets of obstacles to start operations.

"Funding is the biggest challenge to start a business," said Doshi, who employs about 100 people at various interests in Frederick County including a Subway on South Market Street, gas stations and real estate investments.

Finding and maintaining well-trained and qualified staff members is another, he said.

Doshi said he is developing partnerships with the Frederick County Career and Technology Center at Frederick Community College to help vet new hires. He is attempting to become qualified as an employer through a new Department of Labor summer jobs program.

Microbiologist Jhy-Jhu Lin, who opened a small biotech firm called Imagilin Technology in Frederick in 2003, said finding reliable employees to help him manufacture his line of supplements for animals and humans remains difficult.

He said he has turned to Frederick County Workforce Services to help recruit good employees.

Lin first started Imagilin with a group of fellow scientists to research, develop, manufacture and sell probiotics locally and abroad, including in Japan, his native Taiwan, China and Hong Kong.

As strains of bacteria difficult or impossible to treat known as Super Bugs became a concern among the medical community, Lin and his colleagues decided to look at alternatives to anti-biotic treatments. Probiotics can help strengthen the immune system and help with digestion in animals and humans; basically all mammals with a single stomach, he said.

A resident of Montgomery County, Lin said he tried to find a suitable place for his business near to his house and a university that could supply the sort of trained and educated workforce he needed.

He soon realized, however, that opening a biotech firm with a just a few employees would not receive the kind of attention from Montgomery County's business development community he wanted.

"We talked to people in Frederick, saw they were very friendly and wanted to help and decided to give it a try," he said.

"We've been very happy."

Imagilin started operations with the help of the local high tech incubator nonprofit known as the Frederick Innovative Technology Center. He also worked with graduate students from Hood College's biology department who developed their master's theses while working at Imagilin. Three of these students he decided to keep as employees, he said.

About three or four years ago, after Imagilin graduated from the high tech incubator, Lin said he considered returning to Montgomery County but Frederick City's Department of Economic Development helped him find an office space.

"I think Frederick County is trying very hard to catch up," he said.

Doshi said other inhibiting factors for people considering opening a business in Frederick City or county are impact fees and zoning.

As much as 10 percent of the capital cost of opening a business in Frederick goes to water and sewer impact fees, a situation not found in neighboring Washington or Montgomery counties, he said.

"That is extremely high," he said.

Also, rents in Frederick County are high relative to overall salaries, he said.

"The value of the economy doesn't support that cost," he said.

Still, Doshi said a safe and welcoming environment, laid-back lifestyle and especially good schools make Frederick County an attractive option for Asians and anyone seeking to live in the area.

"Education is the key to the success of the county," he said.