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Small businesses give Md., Baltimore metro governments D+ grade

Small-business owners in Maryland are unhappy with the support they get from the state to run their businesses, according to a survey released by Thumbtack.com Tuesday morning, which gave Maryland and the Baltimore metropolitan region each a D+ for small business friendliness, down from last year’s C-.

Survey results include grades for ease of starting a business, hiring employees, state and local regulations, tax codes and zoning.

“You can’t get a straight answer. I make a call 10 times with the same question, and I get 10 different answers,” said a handyman from Dundalk, quoted in the survey results.

Maryland got an F for zoning and environmental regulations. The Baltimore metro region also got F’s in those categories, plus an F for licensing.

The state and the metro area Baltimore — the city and adjacent counties — got the best scores for training and networking programs for ease of hiring. The state got an A- and B- while the metro area got a B and C+ for the respective categories.

Training opportunities were a top factor the influenced business owners’ perceptions of their cities and states. Results show training was 78 percent more important than the No. 2 factor at the metro level. At the state level, small businesses who had a positive training experience were 1.5 times more likely to give their states a more favorable rating.

“I have found a number of opportunities to obtain support in building a new business,” said a Baltimore marriage counselor in the survey.

The Baltimore metro area’s survey results are based on responses from 211 small businesses. The website collected 442 results from business owners across Maryland.

Thumbtack is a network that connects small-business professionals to projects. This is the company’s fourth annual “Small Business Friendliness Survey.”

Survey data was collected over two weeks. Business owners who use Thumbtack.com were sent a link asking them to take the survey. According to Thumbtack’s methodology, each of the 74,485 business owners during who accessed the site over the two-week period was shown the survey prompt at least once, resulting in 17,633 completed responses, or a 24 percent response rate. Roughly 1,500 incomplete responses were thrown out.

Baltimore ranked No. 86 out of 95 metropolitan areas ranked in the survey while Maryland came in 31st out of the 36 ranked states.

Texas, New Hampshire, Utah, Louisiana and Colorado gave their states the highest rating for friendliness to small businesses. Small-business owners in Manchester, Dallas, Richmond, Austin and Knoxville were particularly happy with their states.

On other end of the spectrum, some small-business owners in California, Connecticut, Illinois, and Rhode Island gave their states an “F,” while Massachusetts, Maryland and New York earned  “D” grades. Providence, New Haven, Buffalo, Albuquerque and Hartford were the survey’s worst­-performing metro areas.

Results showed that respondents prioritized ease of licensing over tax rates; labor rules were 88 percent more important to favorable scores than tax rates.

States that had a straightforward licensing process were considered just as “friendly” as city governments with no local licenses. Cities with complicated licensing requirements drew the lowest approval rates.

Quality of websites was another big factor in forming perceptions of city and state governments. Cities and states that had informative and easy-to-use websites were more likely to get better responses. Business owners who said their city had a “great” website ranked their cities 13 percent higher, while there was no difference in the rankings of business owners who were either unaware of or had had a bad experience on city websites, according to survey findings.