City seeks to keep students, business ideas in community

When Jake Day was on the Salisbury University campus last week announcing the “Buy a Home, Build a Business” program, he had conversations with students already interested in staying in town and launching companies.

“We talked to some students looking to start a restaurant. Most young people are interested in products. One is creating a helmet for motorcycles where you get projected imagery on a screen, like the fuel gauge, to make it safer,” Day told the Salisbury Independent.

Two groups are working on enhancements for athletic equipment. “One is a training football, designed by a young woman, that helps by making beeping sounds,” Day said.

Buy a Home, Build a Business, the first venture of its kind in the region — and likely in the state — offers $5,000 to up to 10 students each year, to help with the down payment and closing costs on a house purchased in Salisbury. A $500 to $2,000 cash investment will be made in each business, plus legal guidance and business development advice from experts. The money will not have to be repaid.

Day, with SU President Janet Dudley-Eshbach, announced the undertaking at a joint press conference on campus on March 9 in front of the Perdue School of Business and described it as a collaborative effort of the city, SU and Salisbury Neighborhood Housing Services.

“One of our highest priorities for the city is focusing on attracting educated, young professionals for the economic benefits they bring,” Day said.

“We’re obviously having a lot of success on that front. Our median income is rising and the median age dropping. It’s now one of the youngest cities in the United States, with a median age of 28.2. However, we have this group of young people getting degrees right here, so we should start focusing right here,” he said.

Dudley-Eshbach stressed the importance of the university’s partnership with the city and touted its success for the past 14 years, especially since Day was elected mayor. The Downtown Trolley now runs between SU and the growing Downtown and bike lanes have been painted around the campus to further strengthen that partnership.

Bill Burke, faculty member in the business school at SU, told the Salisbury Independent business plan competitions for students on campus will now be enhanced by Day “coming in and saying to all students, ‘If you want to be an entrepreneur, one of the vehicles by which we train and motivate is through the competitions.’ If they seriously want to start their business in the Salisbury area, he will help them buy a home and build the business on top of what they win in competition.

“From a student standpoint, it’s a good opportunity for them to have a place to live and also help from a business standpoint,” said Burke, who is also executive director of economic development, director of the Shore Hatchery regional competition and director of entrepreneur activities for students on campus.

One student, Day said, won the Radcliffe grant in the business plan competition at SU then started a successful business in Belair rather than in Salisbury.

“I looked at that as, if we can’t keep the winner of the business plan completion here, then we aren’t doing our job,” Day said.

“So, we included an investment in their location, by helping them buy a house in the city, and in their business, by helping them establish their business through a cash investment and with professional advice,” he said.

In August 2013, the Philip E. and Carole R. Ratcliffe Foundation committed $1 million to the School of Business for grants and loan guarantees to start new businesses and offered up to $200,000 annually to entrepreneurs wanting start businesses during the following five years.

The city is funding the Buy a Home, Build a Business program, Day said, and SU officials “will be applying efforts to retain talent and get students to continue to invest in business planning competition.”

“They put hundreds of thousands of dollars into that,” he said.

In 2019, SU will open a new entrepreneur center in the Gallery Building downtown.

“This program has already started. The message is going around campus. We are reaching out to students all over campus. There is networking with professors. The information is on the City’s Website and there have been e-mail blasts campus-wide. We have some professors steering people toward us,” Day said.

Those involved can be undergraduates or recently graduated in the past two years, to give them time to build credit.

“It makes sense to us to say we can offer as good of a deal, if not better, as anybody else can out there in the United States,” Day said.

“When they think about going back home, we want them to say, ‘No, Salisbury wants to invest in me. Salisbury wants to keep me.’”

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