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Listening is Goal of Congresswoman's Tour

Gale Horton Gay | 8/29/2012, 4:13 p.m.

Hairstyles weren't the only concerns on the minds of the women at D&V Hair Salon in Capitol Heights on a busy Tuesday morning.
When Congresswoman Donna F. Edwards [D-Md.] walked through the door on August 21, focus shifted from weaves and twists to economic development and resources for ex-offenders.
"How's the economy treating you," asked Edwards as she approached stylists and owners Valerie Gales, 49, and her sister Edythe Drummings, 38.
Edwards spent most of the day on her annual "Small Business Listening Tour" dropping in on Prince George's County small businesses in her district - 17 in all - in Seat Pleasant, Capitol Heights and District Heights. During the day, Edwards also met with leaders of each municipality, Seat Pleasant Mayor Eugene Grant, Capitol Heights Mayor Kito James and District Heights Vice Mayor Eddie Martin as well as District Heights council members Willie Calhoun and Jack Sims.
In Seat Pleasant, she stopped in at Seaward's Unisex Salon to chat with the owner. Edwards also made an impromptu visit to Keith & Sons Soul Food in Capitol Heights where she enjoyed a bowl of soup, fried fish and cornbread before moving on to another small business in her district.
Grant urged Edwards to support policies that allow for direct funding for municipalities to offer loans for expansion and business development to business owners through either the Small Business Administration or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.
"Small municipalities throughout the 4th Congressional District, such as the City of Seat Pleasant, are great places to live and open a business," said Edwards. "There is a close-knit, community feeling here and I want to do all I can at the federal level to bring in support and funding opportunities into areas like this one, areas that are too often being overlooked."
At D&V Hair Salon while three patrons had their hair in various stages of styling, Gales shared with the congresswoman her desire to renovate and expand the salon and her frustration securing funding. The salon was started in 1974 by Gales' mother Diane Johnson.
Edwards suggested Gales contact the University of Maryland's small business development center as well as the federal Small Business Administration.
"The SBA has a robust woman-owned business arm," said Edwards. "You have been in business so long, you have a track record. You are not a gamble."
Before the congresswoman arrived at the salon, Michelle Bailey-Hedgepeth, 38, town administrator of Capitol Heights, said the concept of a "listening tour" is a good one, giving the congresswoman a better idea of how businesses are dealing with the current economy. She said she hopes it results in effective policy decisions on the congressional level.
"It's a positive thing," said Baily-Hedgepeth.
Jonathan L. Taylor, who provides economic development consulting services to Capitol Heights, said the town's main street - Central Avenue - has been in decline for 30 years and money is needed to make facade improvements to help retain and attract businesses.
As Edwards started to say her goodbyes, Gales' sister asked about services for ex-offenders.
Drummings said her husband had been incarcerated for seven years and has been home for the past three years. However, finding work has been difficult.
"As a man I know that makes him feel bad," said Drummings.
She said she was bothered by people paying their debts to society for non-violent crimes but facing employment discrimination.
Edwards told her about programs and resources and said her office was trying to organize a job fair for ex-offenders but needed to do more work educating employers.
"We know plenty of responsible people need a second chance," Edwards said.