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Making Business Connections
Hunt Valley Business Forum

October 2015
Eric Miller

Eric Miller

Twenty five years after its founding, the Hunt Valley Business Forum’ s leaders are giving the group new focus and vibrancy – with the goal of retaining local business members and attracting new ones. The business group that had its beginnings in the advent of the Light Rail train to Hunt Valley has evolved and expanded, thanks to recommendations by the Strategic Think Tank Committee that met last October to December.

The result is a new structure with four groups, the Forum calls “symposiums,” to involve and educate members, according to Eric Miller, chairman of the Forum’ s board of directors. When Miller became chairman in October, he formed the committee, asking Bernard McLaughlin, president of Point Breeze Credit Union, to lead it as they pondered the Forum’ s relevance to the Hunt Valley Business Community.

The committee came up the four symposiums, each with a separate focus:
• The Business Community symposium looks at changes in the community and their effect on local business.
• The Leadership symposium focuses on the needs of young and emerging leaders and women in business.
• The Business Connections symposium brings together business owners to network and built relationships.
• The Education symposium divides into a variety of roundtables focusing on the skills employees need, including finance, IT and human resources.

“That whole restructuring is what 2015 is all about: making it strong,” says Miller, owner of Smart Performance Strategies.

All of these are, or will be, led by volunteer business leaders, Miller adds.

With that firm foundation, he says, the Forum will be able to grow its membership. “I’ m looking at vertical growth,” he says. “If somebody wants to do business in Hunt Valley, they should join the Forum.”The Hunt Valley Business Forum gathers people from some 260 area businesses, according to Carolyn Panzer, who in April was named executive director of the HVBF. Members include a broad range of companies, from travel agencies and retail shops to financial and telecomm companies to universities and country clubs. Some members have a handful of employees; others have hundreds.

“Hunt Valley has become a business hub in this region,” says Panzer. Companies as diverse as spice giant McCormick & Co., a Forum member, and US Lacrosse have located in Hunt Valley. US Lacrosse will move its operations and businesses to Sparks in early 2016.

Carolyn Panzer

Carolyn Panzer

The Forum began humbly enough. When a proposal was made to situate a Light Rail Station in Hunt Valley, local business leaders decided to form a committee to ensure they had a voice as the project developed.

“It really was all around the Light Rail,” recalls Charles Feihe, a member of the Forum for nearly all of its 25 years and treasure for the past 18. Once the trains were running, members decided to continue meeting. “It was a good group of people. We liked to get together.”

The group evolved into the Hunt Valley Business Forum, focusing on education with roundtables on everything from continuing transportation issues to crime to human resources. “That was pretty successful,” says Feihe, CFO of PDP Group, Inc.

Now, the Forum wants to continue those valuable services while offering new events and programs to attract and engage northern Baltimore County business leaders and their employees. “We want to be the voice of Hunt Valley,” Feihe says.

Forum roundtables have typically attracted employees seeking to enhance their skills, according to Miller, but the new symposiums are designed to appeal to business executives, as well. With the leadership coming from volunteer members, Miller says he expects roundtables to address “topics that are on people’ s minds,”whether that’ s social media, hiring and firing issues or software and hardware recommendations.

To add even more spark to the Forum, the board of directors has been reorganized with new finance, membership, events and marketing committees. And they’ ll meet quarterly to keep the business of the Forum up to date. In addition, the chairman now has a one-year term with a possible second year. That means new bloodevery couple of years, according to Miller.

The board also selected a member of the Forum and a local business owner to serve as its executive director, a part-time position. Panzer, a Forum member for the past six years, runs her own telecommunications consulting firm, Connect Tech Incorporated.

She says she’ s looking forward to renewed interest in the Forum. “It’ s critical you get involved in the organization,” she says, explaining that the goal is to help members grow professionally while they make connections and build their own businesses.

“We want their energy. We want their ideas,” Panzer says, “because we need to be relevant and provide what they want.”

The Women in Business group is one that Panzer hopes to enhance with a focus on the needs of professional women seeking to learn, address issues and collaborate, including mentoring opportunities. “I want to address the topics that aren’ t being addressed,” she says, particularly focusing on women’ s desire to build camaraderie and collaborations. “There’ s power and safety in numbers,” she says. The Forum isn’ t a chamber of commerce. Rather than focus on economic development or legislative issues, it’ s focusing on what members say they need, Panzer says. “It’ s an association run by volunteers and one part-time staff person,” notes Miller, who previously served on the Baltimore County Chamber of Commerce. Education remains a key mission as the Forum provides opportunities for members to get to know each other and their companies.

Members are encouraged to sponsor events to showcase their wares and services. Miller points to a recent networking event held at Fazzini’ s Taverna, a fairly new business in Cockeysville. “You’ re getting a large audience right away,” he says.

In addition to meetings, networking events and speakers, the Forum disseminates business information, including events and personnel announcements, for members on its website and in its newsletters.

“We need each other to be successful in business,” Miller says.

Feihe says membership in the Forum has enabled him to put faces on the business leaders of Hunt Valley, to make connections, share information and even form friendships. “I want to know what people are doing in Hunt Valley,” he says.

Panzer says she is always looking for new ways to attract and involvemembers. “I always ask myself, ‘ What do they need?’” she says.

As the business environment in Hunt Valley has expanded and developed, the Forum has too. The focus is Hunt Valley but now stretches north into Sparks with members throughout the county and Baltimore City, as well.

“It’ s my job to deliver,” Panzer says. I95