Larry Spriggs tells the story of one man's business, and of the growth of a larger community as well.

The black business community in Maryland grew 46 percent between 1997 and 2002, according to a survey released last week by the Census Bureau. With 69,428 black businesses, the state has the sixth-largest black business population in the nation.

Much of the growth has occurred in Prince George's, the country's wealthiest predominantly black county. Many of the companies that opened in the state between 1997 and 2002 were started by former federal workers or contractors who decided to branch out on their own.

Spriggs started Largo-based Soft-Con Enterprises in 1996 after the information technology contract he was working under at a large federal contractor ended.

Like many other entrepreneurs, Spriggs began working from his basement. In 2002, he moved into office space. He now has 16 employees, making his company bigger than more than half of all the black-owned businesses in the country. The census survey found that 1.1 million of the nation's 1.2 million black-owned businesses have no employees.

Spriggs, who recently moved to Charles County, said his company has been helped by a fertile source of work: the federal government. Prince George's has been a good place to expand his business, he said.

"As [Prince George's County] is emerging in its efforts to attract major companies, we have been able to find help for small companies to get on their feet," Spriggs said.

New Hotel in Largo?

An upscale hotel is coming to Largo . . . maybe. A recent news release sent out by the The Michael Cos., based in Lanham, listing its most recent deals included this brief:

"NAI Michael wishes to announce the sale of 5.3 acres of I-3 zoned land at Arena Drive and Brightseat Road. The Seller was Landover Properties Inc. and the Purchaser was Navnish Landover, LLC. Navnish has plans for an upscale, limited service hotel of approximately 150 rooms. The purchase price was $880,000."

This week, however, Sheenal Patel, the owner of the Navnish investment group, said: "We thought something was coming together [but] we don't have anything to report."

Sam's Club Shuts Down

The Sam's Club on Brightseat Road in Landover closed abruptly Monday. County civic associations had been predicting its closing for months after the store was listed among possible retailers at a new development being planned near the Ritchie-Marlboro Road Capital Beltway interchange.

Arthur Turner, president of the Towns of Kettering Homeowners Association, sent out an urgent e-mail alerting the local community to the closing. "Tractor-trailers are loading up and moving merchandise out right now," he said.