The International Economic Development Council had reason to recognize Pasco County earlier this month, bestowing its Gold Excellence in Economic Development Award to the Pasco Economic Development Council.
PEDC had established an unconventional, collaborative entrepreneurship program called the Pasco Enterprise Network. From that, a new business incubator, as well as a microloan fund for small businesses, was formed.
“These awards are meant to honor the organizations and individuals who are dedicated to making a positive change in their communities,” IEDC chair Paul Krutko said in a release. PEDC “uses creative solutions and inventive ideas, and offers other regions a wonderful example to learn and benefit from.”
The enterprise network, recognized as the best of the best for communities with populations of between 200,000 and 500,000 people, is a one-stop resource for finding guidance and assistance for new businesses, according to the PEDC’s website. It’s a collaborative effort of nonprofit groups that provide consulting, counseling, education and technical assistance.
“Basically, this was all put into place because there was a lack of capital for startup businesses and small businesses in the county,” said Krista Covey, the PEDC’s economic development manager. “We are about job creation and about supporting our local economy to help our businesses grow and be prosperous. The hindrance was capital.”
The microloan program has put capital back on the market, especially during a time in the recent past when banks weren’t exactly lending to small businesses. With a pool of $320,000 thanks to investments from Saint Leo University, various banks and other groups, nine loans of up to $35,000 have been distributed so far with low interest rates and terms of no more than six years.
The loans themselves have created 24 jobs in the county, Covey said, and this past summer, even had its first payoff when 301 Designs Inc. paid back its loan 17 months ahead of schedule.
An online retail apparel company, 301 Designs started in the home of its founder, Gil Gauthier, and is now operating out of a 2,400-square-foot warehouse space.
“If a company comes in and has a good business plan in place, that’s great,” Covey said. “Even if they don’t have a business plan, we automatically refer them to the small business development center and they’ll be walked through the whole process.”
Even if a company qualifies for money under the microloan program, the help doesn’t stop there.
“We offer ongoing technical assistance along with the other help they’ll receive from the PEDC,” Covey said. “We want them to be successful, and we want them to be a viable business.”
Joining Saint Leo as financial contributors to the microloan program are Pasco County, Wells Fargo Bank, Bank of America, CenterState Bank, Suncoast Schools Federal Credit Union, local entrepreneur Tim Tangredi, and Rubber Resources owner Dale Hawker.
Its incubator at the Dade City Business Center is the first of its kind in Pasco County. The SmartStart incubator is an overall partnership that includes the help of Dade City government officials, the Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce, Florida High Tech Corridor Council, Saint Leo, the Florida Small Business Development Center, and the University of South Florida’s USF Connect.
The IEDC has more than 4,000 members around the world, and its excellence in economic development awards recognizes the world’s best economic development programs and partnerships, marketing materials, and most influential leaders.
This award is the sixth state- or national-level accolade in the last three years for the PEDC.
“We know that a successful economy depends on small businesses and the support of entrepreneurship,” said PEDC chief executive John Hagen, in a release. “Working together as a support network, entrepreneurs will be more likely to succeed.”