As Pasco County businesses and individuals look to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, the Pasco Economic Development Council (Pasco EDC) is continuing to provide wide-ranging resources and guidance.
Pasco EDC representatives Mike Bishop and Dan Mitchell were on hand during a Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting last month at Lake Jovita Golf and Country Club, to discuss the group’s various opportunities and initiatives.
The Pasco EDC is a private, 501c3 nonprofit organization that promotes countywide economic development, and is partnered and funded by corporate and public investors focused on the economic vitality of Pasco County. The organization formed in 1987.
“It’s all about jobs,” Bishop, the organization’s director of stakeholder engagement, said during the April 20 meeting. “We are in the business of attracting these companies to provide jobs for our county residents.”
Pasco EDC’s six target industries encompass the following: manufacturing; aerospace, aviation, and defense; business and professional services; information technology; life sciences and medical technology; and, logistics and distribution.
Noticeable strides are being made in the life sciences and medical technology tract, in particular.
Bishop highlighted Moffitt Cancer Center’s expansion near the intersection of Suncoast Parkway and Ridge Road Extension in Pasco.
The multiphase campus ultimately is expected to comprise of an estimated 1.4 million square feet and some 14,000 jobs over the next 20 years, featuring research labs, offices, light industrial/manufacturing capabilities, and conference space.
The facility also is anticipated to attract other surrounding medical-oriented biotechnology and pharmaceutical companies. Said Bishop: “That’ll be the gift that keeps on giving.”
Bishop told the breakfast crowd that the manufacturing sector “is a big one for us,” given its contributions to the county’s tax roll.
Exporting is another area the Pasco EDC is “looking at getting back up and running,” Bishop said, noting “that’s something that COVID impacted pretty dramatically.”
Bishop described workforce connections as a point of emphasis now, as companies face the challenge of finding talented, skilled employees.
Pasco EDC has worked to help fill that gap, he said, partnering with institutions including Pasco-Hernando State College and Saint Leo University to facilitate internships and other opportunities, to link employers and career seekers.
Meanwhile, Mitchell emphasized the importance of the county fostering a diversified economy to help “rise all boats.”
Many economic development councils across the country have “a huge focus” on recruiting businesses to their respective areas.
But, Mitchell said: “Just recruiting $80,000 per year jobs doesn’t give everybody a job, so we believe in stimulating a diversified economy.”
For instance, residents who are in recovery from substance addiction need various employment opportunities.
Pasco EDC does more than recruit companies.
It also helps existing industry develop and grow.
The organization’s SMARTstart program, led by Mitchell, offers resources and tools for established small businesses and also helps entrepreneurs who are looking to launch a business.
SMARTstart offers mentorship opportunities, educational workshops and roundtables, microloan funding, workspace incubators and other tools.
Some 1,500 business owners participated in at least one of its programs last year, Mitchell said.
At its core, SMARTstart seeks to resolve whatever is holding back would-be business owners.
“We’ve all been there, something’s holding you back,” Mitchell said, noting the obstacles can include insufficient funding, a lack of workspace, or a need for education or guidance.
Mitchell touched on specific opportunities available through SMARTstart.
For example, the organization has opened its microloan eligibility requirements due to the COVID-19 pandemic, for businesses looking to grow, expand, or pivot operations.
Loans are available for up to $50,000 for applying businesses that are otherwise unbankable; Pasco EDC’s revolving microloan fund has about $600,000 available.
The loans can’t be used for real estate, short-term needs or to pay off debt, but can be used for improvements, working capital and so on.
“It really needs to be used to grow new business,” he explained.
Another signature SMARTstart operation is a nine-week bootcamp — CO.STARTERS — which seeks to equip seasoned and aspiring entrepreneurs with the insights, relationships and tools needed to turn ideas into action, and turn a passion into a sustainable and thriving endeavor.
The CO.STARTERS operation, Mitchell explained, “helps people take a nascent idea and turn it into a business model, and really put it on a structure, and by the end of that nine weeks, they’ve got a little rolodex with several guest speakers that have come out, and they’re ready and prepared to launch their business.”
By the same token, Mitchell acknowledged people sometimes — upon finishing the nine-week program — decide they’re better off not turning their original idea or concept into a full-blown business, where they might have to invest their savings or resign from their current job.
To learn more about special events, available training and other Pasco EDC resources, visit PascoEDC.com, call 813-926-0827.
Published May 12, 2021