Last week accountant Ralph B. Bazilio began his first day as chairman of the Prince George's Chamber of Commerce by boarding a charter bus. Bazilio, who succeeds zoning lawyer Richard K. "Chip" Reed as leader of the chamber, and 20 other business officials rode through the county, touring sites of major economic developments.
Why? Bazilio, who has lived in the county for 24 years, said the tour was evidence of the growing opportunities for businesses in Prince George's.
"There is tremendous activity in the development industry," Bazilio said. "This is resulting in an increase in the housing stock and an increase in commercial and retail activity."
The tour began on a grassy field in College Park that will house an office park for research companies and federal agencies affiliated with the University of Maryland. The chamber members, whose bus was escorted by police officers, then drove to the Gateway Arts District, where the state has subsidized apartments for artists to live in at discounted rents. They then traveled east to view the county's newest shopping center, the Boulevard at the Capital Centre in Largo. Construction of a 12-screen movie theater is underway at the outdoor mall, which opened seven months ago. The tour ended on the banks of the Potomac River at National Harbor in Fort Washington, where the foundation is being readied for a large hotel and more than a million square feet of restaurant, retail and entertainment space.
Bazilio has been involved in business since he was a boy growing up in Guyana, a South American country next to Venezuela. His family owned a country store, rice farm and cattle ranch and rented bulldozers and distilled rum.
Bazilio's voice still carries a rhythmic Caribbean accent, although he left the small country for the United States in 1973 to attend the University of the District of Columbia, where he graduated in 1978 with a degree in accounting. He worked for a couple of accounting firms in the Washington area, and in 1989, he joined a District-based company now called Thompson, Cobb, Bazilio & Associates. When he joined the company, it had only about a dozen employees; today it has 200.
The company does auditing and management consulting. It has counted the ballots for the annual NAACP Image Awards and done accounting work for Radio One Inc., a national radio company based in Lanham. Bazilio said he is eager to see other small businesses grow, too.
"We want to now make absolutely sure that all businesses have access to . . . opportunities," Bazilio said. "We're going to work towards being a reservoir of opportunities. We want to seek out opportunities and store them and disseminate them to our members. Then after you know about the opportunity, you also need to go a step further and provide the opportunity for businesses to meet."
President Wendi M. Williams, who runs the chamber's staff, said Bazilio's business savvy will benefit the chamber.
"He brings tremendous knowledge and relationships and an entrepreneurial approach to getting things done," she said.
Bazilio said he is trying to find ways to make sure the chamber's activities directly impact a business's profits. The chamber has done a good job of bringing business owners together at luncheons and meetings, he said, but creating a list of job opportunities would take the ability to network a step further. He would like the chamber to create a database of such opportunities that it disseminates to its members regularly.
Bazilio said that to retain its 900 members, the chamber will consider a range of options, including increasing its services. At least two chambers have sprouted up to serve county minority businesses in the last five years: the Prince George's Black Chamber and Prince George's Hispanic Chamber.
"The Prince George's Chamber has a responsibility to all businesses," Bazilio said. "Ethnic groups may have some special needs and challenges. Our initiatives are for all county businesses."
He added that the chamber has opened a dialogue with all of the county's minority chamber groups.
"The chamber has been revitalized over the last four or five years," he said. "Servicing members of the chamber really means giving them the opportunity to do business, creating a healthy atmosphere."