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Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette Logo Berlin, Ocean Pines News Worcester County Bayside Gazette


Welcome Center welcomes new biz

(Jan. 29, 2015) Once it was a train store, then a small town chamber of commerce with a few spaces for artists, then it was an evolving visitor’s center.
Today, the building at 14 South Main Street in Berlin is referred to as the Welcome Center, and its uses continues to grow as several new players move in to the offices inside.
Jim Volk took over day-to-day operations of the Berlin Chamber of Commerce in November, with an office in the center. Ivy Wells, who replaced both Michael Day and Megan Houston as economic and community development director and main street coordinator, respectively, moved into the big office in December.
Sharon Timmons, formerly an administrative assistant with the town of Berlin, will soon move into the center and assist Wells.
At least two of the six 10 x 10 offices in the center are being used as storages spaces. One, however, is currently home to a new startup business, FRX International Drug, run by Halima Yusuf.
Yusuf moved to Berlin in June. After researching local economic development leaders, she contacted Day.
“Michael is a sweetheart,” she said. “I found him and I said, ‘Michael, I’m new in town. I need to know what’s going on. I need to start my business. Can I do something?’ I wasn’t sure if I wanted to continue being an entrepreneur or just work for one of the local businesses that fit my background.
“We met and we started a dialogue,” Yusuf continued. “When I was looking for an office space just to get my planning aspects and everything going I said, ‘Do you have something?’ And he said, ‘Sure, come on.’”
Yusuf previously ran a company called FX International Development out of Tampa, Fla., helping to facilitate international business.
“Let’s say there was an ABC company that wanted to export to Brazil, for example, but they had no international presence, no knowledge base,” Yusuf said. “I would do the consulting, help them dissect the rules of that company, help them analyze all the factors, including working with the U.S. government, and provide them with an analogy of how to approach that market and what the best strategy to conduct business in that country is, and whether you should or shouldn’t.”
The company opened operations in Berlin on Jan. 5, although Yusuf admits she is still “in the planning phase.”
“The goal is to restructure the business to where we wanted it to be and to start doing some business out of Berlin and throughout the world,” she said.
Day, who pitched a business incubator arrangement in the center to the town last year, said the timing of Yusuf’s business was “just one of those things.”
“She needed space and it was a business that we would like to encourage in Berlin – a low impact on the town, but yet a successful marriage we hope,” he said.
In exchange for opening her business in town, Yusuf received a reduced rate in her rent during the first three months of operation.
“After three months, after she gets settled in, we’ll bump it up to the regular rate,” Day said.
Volk called the concept of using the space for a startup “ideal.”
“The business that Halima is going after is going to reach across the U.S. to Europe and other countries as well, all from Berlin,” he said. “We couldn’t be more excited.”
Wells called Yusuf “a wonderful addition.”
“It’s a perfect location and arrangement for someone who is currently working from home,” she said.
The Welcome Center is short on space at present, but additional startups could eventually find a home there.
“Jim Volk and I have been meeting about and re-designing the welcome center with a variety of ideas and options,” Wells said. “As of right now, we are focusing on some interior improvements and organization.”
“Storage is a big issue right now,” Day said. “We want to try to keep the conference room available. People are taking use of it as a place to meet with six or eight people, and it’s been very well received, but as soon as they work out the storage hopefully there will be two more spots for small businesses. One step at a time.”