LINTHICUM – Pat and Barry Cernik were renovating homes and reselling them for a profit a little more than a year ago.
But the husband-and-wife team lost money on the last home and have officially joined the growing list of small businesses crippled financially by the economic downturn.
“We had to get out,” Pat Cernik said. “We couldn’t continue to do it. We weren’t making anything.”
Now the Cerniks are pinning their Baltimore-based building company’s turnaround on a road they never traveled: government contracts.
That hope brought them and about 80 other small businesses to a conference Tuesday at a Marriott Hotel near BWI-Marshall Airport.
There they spent the day exchanging business cards, hearing about loan programs and listening to federal and state officials tout the business benefits of thousands of military-related jobs transferring to Maryland and billions flowing to the state from the stimulus law.
“We’ve never tapped into federal or any kind of government money,” Pat Cernik said. “But now we know that all these people are going to be coming to the state and they need a place to live.”
The transfer of military jobs and the stimulus money will bring myriad opportunities to contractors, small businesses and individuals looking for work, said Karen Shannon, one of the event’s organizers.
An estimated 60,000 jobs will be created by the federal Base Realignment and Closure process and other growth at Aberdeen Proving Ground, Fort Meade and other military facilities in the state.
And the $787 billion spending and tax cut package signed by President Obama on Feb. 17 is bringing about $3.8 billion to Maryland. Among the spending is money for infrastructure and research projects, public housing rehabilitation and weatherization.
“We just have to make certain that we reach out as small business owners,” Shannon said. “We’ve got to take our pride off the table and say, ‘I can do it.'”
With new credit hard to come by and existing credit lines frozen and cancelled, many businesses are shutting down or being forced to cut back, Shannon said.
“It’s sad, because a lot of them are just losing everything,” she said. “So they’re just in a place to where they don’t know what to do.”
Sonia Stockton, regional director for the Towson University-based Maryland Small Business Development Center, said more and more small businesses are contacting her office about government contracting.
“We’re getting a lot more calls from people looking at the federal government,” she said. “Government is always buying something.”
Jose Burke collected e-mail addresses and made sure he was added to a distribution list to receive the names of the 50 largest BRAC-related prime contractors.
The sales manager for Capitol Heights-based Turtle Wings Electronics Recycling said his company is losing business as its clients cut back.
“A lot of clients have electronics but don’t have the money,” Burke said. “So they’ll wind up storing it for an extended length of time.”
The Cerniks are surviving on word-of-mouth business and a contract providing concrete work for handicap-accessible ramps around Baltimore City.
Barry Cernik sees hope in President Obama’s just-announced withdrawal plans for Iraq. His 35-year-old company is already renovating a kitchen for a soldier who is relocating to Maryland with his wife. He envisions more business from returning troops looking for affordable housing.
“There’s going to have to be a market for housing,” he said. “This is where we’re hoping that we can get with Aberdeen or Fort Meade.”