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P.G. awards first loans to manufacturing, pizza companies

Prince George's County officials have awarded the first loans from their highly touted $50 million economic development incentive fund to a computer equipment manufacturer and a Little Caesars Pizza owner.

Man & Machine Inc., a Landover company that was founded in Prince George's, will use a $500,000 loan to add more facilities and employees to help manufacture waterproof and washable computer equipment such as keyboards and mice.

Little Caesars franchisee lrfaan Lalani, who will add two new stores to his five current locations, received a $300,000 loan.

The loans are in line with what officials expected the fund to provide, according to David lannucci, assistant deputy chief administrative officer for economic development.

But some business experts question whether the government should spend money on a pizza business expected to bring 40 part-time jobs and six full-time positions to the county.

One would think that the county would on average prefer to invest in segments that at least have the promise of a high-wage or medium-wage job," said Anirban Basu, CEO of Sage Policy Group in Baltimore. The goal of economic development today is to add more jobs, and while I suppose in a down economy its true that every job is a good job, some jobs are better."

The county initially received about 50 applications for loans from the fund -- roughly 20 are still being considered or are pending, lannucci said.

The number of applicants has slowed down since officials announced the launch of the fund earlier this year.

These first loans should help give Prince George's businesses and entrepreneurs an idea of what to expect, lannucci said, who hopes the first loans will help draw others to apply.

"These are the kinds of classic small-business loans we expect to do a fair amount of when things heat up," he said.

The fund, about $18 million of which is available the next two years, has the flexibility to provide larger loans and grants to make the kind of splash touted by County Executive Rushern Baker when he pushed for the fund last year -- drawing government contracting and tech jobs that Prince George's lacks compared with other jurisdictions in the region.

Stephen Fuller, director of the Center for Regional Analysis at George Mason University, said a loan to Little Caesar's may not constitute economic development in some people's minds, but "that's probably not what [Prince George's is] doing right now. They're focused on jobs."

Both businesses are inside the Capital Beltway, a focus area where county officials hope to spur development, lannucci said.

"Even if its a pizza place, showing that an area has economic potential is a plus," Fuller said.


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