Asian businesses on rise in Frederick Co.

Sharad Doshi owns the Subway at 69 S. Market St. in downtown Frederick. (Frederick News-Post/Sam Yu)

Sharad Doshi and his wife, Sonal, employ about 100 people at various interests in Frederick County, including a Subway on South Market Street, gas stations and real estate investments, he said.

Attracted by the area’s good schools and safe environment, Doshi moved with his family from Pennsylvania to Frederick County in 1995, at a time when few fellow Asians lived in the county, he said.

Originally from Gujarat state, India, Doshi is a part of Frederick County’s rapidly increasing Asian population, the fastest growing in the state between 2000 and 2010, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

From 2000 to 2010, Frederick County’s Asian population increased 173 percent to 8,946 people, or about 3.8 percent of the total population, an increase over the county’s 2.2 percent makeup of Asians in 2000, when they were only 2.2 percent of the population, the Census said.

Asians, Hispanic and other minorities helped account for a large portion of Frederick County’s 20 percent population increase between 2000 and 2010, though the overall figures are well behind neighboring Montgomery and Howard counties, where the largest numbers of Asians in Maryland reside, Census figures show.

The population increase is making an economic impact.

The number of Asian-owned businesses in Frederick Country grew from 218 with $46.4 million in sales in 1997 to 699 firms with $289.6 million worth of sales in 2007, the last year for which data is available, according to Elizabeth Chung, executive director of the Asian American Center of Frederick.Asian-owned firms employed 3,138 people, about 3.7 percent of the 84,824 employees in Frederick County in 2007, according to Mark Goldstein, an economist with the Maryland Department of Planning. The number of employees in 1997 was closer to 400.

Chung said such growth is also evident in the increasing amount of support systems, language schools, community centers and churches geared toward Asian and other immigrant communities.

“We find those who have been here longer are beginning to feel a bit more comfortable,” Chung said.

“There is growth, and at the same time, there are challenges for the newcomers,” she said.

She wonders whether there is sufficient awareness among the Asian business community of government-sponsored economic development initiatives, such as those that exist on the Golden Mile and on the east end of Frederick city.

Chung said Frederick city and county governments should do their best to reach out to the Asian communities and make sure they know what opportunities already exist.

“I would like to see our government take a second or maybe a first look at the growth,” she said.

Helen Riddle, director of Frederick County Business Retention and Development Division, wrote in an email that the county values diversity in the business community.

When people arrive in Frederick County from other cultures, they also often bring new techniques for meeting business goals and community needs and serving customers, she said.

“Our office certainly is happy to assist any entrepreneur with starting a business, growing their business, finding new partners for their business and attracting qualified workers,” she wrote.

An example of such a business is Imagilin Technology, a local biotech firm, she said. The county development division helped them find a location, workforce needs and networking opportunities.

Richard Griffin, director of the City of FrederickDepartment of Economic Development, said the organization works with hundreds of businesses each year and offers services without placing an emphasis on the ethnicity of ownership, though they understand the importance of supporting minority-owned businesses.

He said the Department of Economic Development has also worked with Imagilin, among other businesses, to develop and expand in the area.

In some cases, business owners from certain ethnic groups can lag behind their proportion of the population, in part because of relatively rapid movements of immigrants, Griffin said.

The ultimate goal, he said, is to work together.

“There’s more that we could do, and there’s more opportunities for the community,” he said.

In some cases, people among some immigrant communities, which can tend to be insular and, in some cases, leery of government agencies, can have difficulty taking advantage of development opportunities available to everyone, said Laurie Holden, director of Frederick County Workforce Services.

Regardless of the difficulties, Workforce Services tries to guide people of Asian descent, as well as other immigrant groups, into the local workforce, particularly when English is a limiting factor, Holden said.

When BP Solar laid off more than 300 local employees from Myanmar in 2010, Holden said Workforce Services hired an interpreter who speaks Vietnamese and Burmese to help them find new jobs. Workforce Services also recently supported a local effort to train multi-lingual residents to become medical interpreters.

Education levels of Frederick’s Asian workforce vary considerably, but typically, she said, many are highly educated and eager to work and learn.

“They’re a great asset to our community,” she said.

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