If you’re looking to start or grow your business, the Pasco Economic Development Council’s microloan program may be able to help. More information can be found at SmartStartPasco.com/about-microloans.
Despite unanticipated challenges of the COVID-19 crisis, Pasco County still had much to celebrate in terms of growth, tourism and economic development.
That was the primary theme of “TeamUp! Building a Strong Economy Together,” an event hosted by Experience Florida’s Sports Coast (FSC) and Pasco Economic Development Council — two marketing organizations charged with driving the success of the county’s economy.
The May 6 event was held at AdventHealth Center Ice in Wesley Chapel, with 175 socially distanced guests attending in person, and others taking part remotely.
The evening ceremony highlighted accomplishments of both marketing organizations, corporate businesses, entrepreneurs, hoteliers, attraction partners and restaurateurs.
The idea for the special gala was spurred from a conversation between Pasco EDC president and CEO Bill Cronin and FSC tourism director Adam Thomas, regarding the economic struggles both corporate businesses and tourism industry partners had faced in the previous year because of COVID-19.
Blending the two brands, TeamUp! featured a figure skating showcase, networking hour, awards dinner and joint economic presentation fronted by Cronin and Thomas, along with other speakers.
Also, FSC and Pasco EDC screened their first collaborative video showcasing Pasco as an attractive place to live, work and play.
The six-minute video takes a bird’s eye and grounded tour around the county, stopping at popular destinations while delving into specific need-to-know information for those looking to relocate their businesses, travel to the destination, or host a conference or event in the area.
Various awards were bestowed, as well, honoring those who have made a lasting impression on the county’s diverse and growing economy:
Experience Florida’s Sports Coast Awards
- Chairman’s Choice Award: Congressman Gus Bilirakis
- Lodging Partner of the Year: SpringHill Suites by Marriott Tampa-Suncoast Parkway
- Tourism Legacy Award: Thomas Dempsey, founder of Saddlebrook Resort & Spa
Pasco EDC Awards
- Leadership Award: Dr. Arthur Kirk Jr., president emeritus of Saint Leo University
- Recruitment Project of the Year: Santander Consumer USA
- Expansion Project of the Year: The Soule Co.
The evening concluded with a special keynote address by Mike Rayburn, who blended comedy, music and thought-provoking messaging — while sharing his story of going from playing guitar for seven people in a bar in Virginia to playing in Carnegie Hall.
New companies, new jobs
Speaking from a well-lit, lifted stage, Cronin detailed how area economic development efforts emerged strong even during 2020’s trials and tribulations.
This included welcoming $104 million in new capital investment and 15 new company projects adding more than 1,400 direct jobs.
In fact, Cronin said these figures yielded the private, nonprofit organization’s “best year so far, for investment and job creation in Pasco County.”
The Pasco EDC’s ongoing efforts required creativity and adaptations to get work done, given various limitations brought about by COVID-19, Cronin explained from the luminated dais.
“The pandemic pushed us all to find new methods to manage old routines,” he said.
“Economic development was no different, and I’m proud to say that our team at the Pasco EDC rose to the challenge and found innovative ways to bring new investment and new jobs to the county.
“Like so many other businesses, we turned to virtual platforms to accomplish things that we could no longer do in person. We hosted site visits, business workshops and special events, all virtually.”
Cronin highlighted other economic-related marks from the past year, including the opening of Pasco EDC’s third small business incubator location — SMARTstart Grove Entrepreneur Center in Wesley Chapel — designed to help entrepreneurs expand their business and turn ideas into realities.
Interestingly enough, desserts prepared for the event were concocted by a trio of SMARTstart restaurant entrepreneur members and alums — Lanky Lassie’s Shortbread in Dade City; Sweet Luminous Bakery in Dade City; and, Hillbilly Farms in Dade City.
Cronin also mentioned how the Pasco EDC partnered with Pasco County government to provide emergency relief to more than 1,200 small businesses struggling to meet the demands the pandemic placed on them.
“Despite the challenges that 2020 presented,” Cronin said, “we kept moving forward.”
Tourism on the rebound?
Likewise speaking to the sizable crowd, Thomas acknowledged Pasco’s tourism “took a hit” from the pandemic, and remains in recovery mode.
However, the county’s tourism brand leader presented a mostly upbeat outlook for 2021 — noting visitor numbers steadily increasing the second half of this year and beyond.
“After a year of strict restrictions, people are itching to get back on the road and back in the air,” said Thomas, also quick to point out tourism industry analysts reporting that nearly 80% of Americans are dreaming of or planning to travel this year.
Thomas added the CDC’s recent guidance indicating vaccinated individuals can now safely travel without risking their health brings “another encouraging sign from our tourism industry for the second half of this year.”
Though the pandemic put a dent into some of Pasco’s original grandiose tourism plans and projections for most of 2020, there were some wins from the prior year.
Among other entertainment venues, shopping and hotels coming online, Thomas in particular highlighted the opening of the Sarah Vande Berg Tennis and Wellness Center in Zephyrhills; AdventHealth Sports Arena at Wiregrass Ranch Sports Campus of Pasco County, in Wesley Chapel; and Widow Fletcher’s, a new waterfront restaurant in New Port Richey.
Thomas told the audience how FSC remained aggressive following the pandemic’s initial scare.
It was one of the first tourism agencies in the state to return to marketing after what Thomas labeled “a two-month industry blackout.”
The group ran an outdoor adventure-focused marketing digital campaign promoting the county’s 10-day summer scallop season along the Anclote River.
The campaign resulted in visitation growth of more than 60% and related economic impact, Thomas said.
Pasco, too, was one of Florida’s first to return to hosting sporting events amid the pandemic, Thomas said, with the TORHS 2Hot4Ice roller hockey national championships in July.
The event — with strict pandemic protocols in place — brought together 113 teams who played a staggered schedule over 10 days at AdventHealth Center Ice.
Thomas presented other encouraging tourism-related figures.
More than 25% of county visitors last year were first-timers who plan to return, he said.
Visitor spending was down compared to fiscal year 2019, but tourists still created more than a half-million dollars of economic impact to the county, saving every resident over $260 in their annual taxes, he said.
Though the FSC has mainly focused on youth and amateur sports and outdoor recreational offerings to attract visitation, Thomas indicated the agency next plans to branch into the business meeting marketplace.
The county in October will play host to the inaugural SMERF (Social, Military, Educational, Religious and Fraternal) Express conference — an overnight tourism-based trade show featuring social functions, community service, team building and one-on-one appointments between meeting planners and destination marketing organizations.
And, in January there will be a similar but sports-tourism focused conference called Sports Express-Indoor.
Thomas also discussed how FSC is building on in-state tourism drive markets of Orlando, Miami and Jacksonville, along with out-of-state drive markets of Atlanta and Raleigh-Durham.
The agency also is launching new promotions geared toward people in the New York, New Jersey and the Great Lakes region.
“When they’re ready to travel,” Thomas said, “we’re ready to welcome them.”
The speaker also touted the reach and impact of FSC, which has increased its staffing levels and has received national recognition in the tourism industry for its various campaigns and efforts.
Thomas said: “We focus on telling our community story — the experiences that make Pasco County the best destination in Florida, and the place we all love to call home, whether we’re fishing in the gulf, skydiving in Zephyrhills, or hiking in our nature parks, or playing hockey right here at AdventHealth Center Ice.”
Published June 02, 2021
The Pasco Economic Development Council Inc., helped Mary Katherine Mason celebrate the grand opening of Lanky Lassie’s Shortbread, at 37845 Meridian Ave., in downtown Dade City.
Two days of festivities included a ribbon-cutting attended by area dignitaries, a performance by bagpiper Gemma Briggs, a parade, cookie-decorating for kids, and shortbread paired with various libations, for adults.
Mason, a veteran of the United States Marine Corps, launched her business after being furloughed from her design career in the hotel industry, during the pandemic.
Lanky Lassie’s Shortbread has been a member of the Pasco EDC SMARTstart program since it began using the East Pasco Incubator Kitchen in Dade City to help its business grow, Dan Mitchell, SMARTstart program director, said in a news release.
Mason used many of the tools that SMARTstart has to offer, and she grew from a cottage food business to opening her own shop, Mitchell added.
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
When guests arrived at SMARTstart @ The Grove last month, they found a space that’s well-equipped to help entrepreneurs launch a new business, and to help existing businesses grow.
The business incubator is at 6013 Wesley Grove Blvd., Suite 202, in the Grove at Wesley Chapel — a shopping, restaurant and entertainment complex that’s in the midst of a massive refresh.
Bill Cronin, president and CEO of Pasco Economic Development Council Inc., spoke enthusiastically about the center’s potential.
“These doors that you walked through today, there’s going to be so many different companies — people, families, all different types of things are going to be coming through those doors in the future,” Cronin said.
The economic development expert noted that Pasco County has a pro-business environment, and welcomes not only companies that are transplanting from overseas, but also startup companies that are getting off the ground.
“You look at those big cities all over the United States and they’ve got headquarters — a lot of those headquarters didn’t move there. A lot of them started there,” he said.
The Pasco EDC and Pasco County have programs aimed at helping businesses that are in every stage of development, Cronin added.
Dan Mitchell, the EDC’s program director for SMARTstart, shared some statistics from last year’s activities with Pasco’s incubators.
“This is our third entrepreneur center,” Mitchell said. “Last year, even though we had to deal with the pandemic, through SMARTstart, we were able to help over 645 business owners with counseling sessions to help them with financial assistance, technical assistance and guidance that they needed.
“We served over 24 businesses in our incubators, actually helping them with workspace and guidance they need to launch their businesses.
“We have over 156 events, many of them were virtual. But we had 1,960 event participants at our SMARTstart events.
“This center is going to allow us to magnify that impact, because right now our two centers are on the far reaches of the county. We’ve got a New Port Richey Center and we’ve got our Dade City Center.
“The New Port Richey Center has a professional services feel to it. The Dade City Center supports our food businesses and food entrepreneurs.
“This center will allow us to have that impact be countywide, and have that impact the entire region as a whole,” Mitchell added.
Tracy Ingram, an entrepreneur who has been involved with Pasco’s incubators for about 10 years, offered his perspective on the opportunities they create.
“I work all of the way down to Sarasota/Manatee, all of the way up to Citrus, all of the way over to Orlando. I haven’t been able to see that level of commitment to the actual starting of companies,” he said.
Pasco has made a decision to help entrepreneurs launch companies, and provides support to help them nurture their companies so they can grow strong, Ingram said.
“Maybe you want to start a lawn service business or a bakery or something like that, maybe you’re starting an app for a dotcom company,” he said.
Pasco’s approach has been: “Can I help you where you’re at — versus trying to fit you into a mold and say, ‘No, you have to be this way.’”
Pasco EDC has helped entrepreneurs connect with business mentors to help develop companies, and CEOs to connect with their peers, to learn from each other’s experiences, Ingram said.
Mentors can help entrepreneurs find out if they have a business model that can succeed.
“Maybe you have a great widget, but does anyone really want it?” he said.
Or, perhaps you have a great idea, but don’t have a clue about how to secure financing and get it to market.
Mentors can provide guidance: “How do we take your energy and your enthusiasm and help put some meat on the bones, or put some structure underneath it, to really help you be successful.”
Ingram said he has benefitted from business mentors, and is now giving back.
“Some of the best advice I ever got is that no one really cares about your company, they care about what your product is going to do for them.
“How can I help you? If my product or company can help you, then how do I do that? That becomes this magic, when you start really looking from the customer perspective.
“You start looking at, how do I build something that people want, how do I reach that customer?” he said.
“Pasco County was the county that stood behind us. So, when we started looking at where we wanted to land, Pasco County was where we decided to land because the county was behind us. You don’t get that in every other county. You don’t get the county really stepping in to make sure entrepreneurs are successful,” Ingram said.
“There is so much value here for people who are out on their own. As an entrepreneur, you feel like you have to do it alone. But you realize, the truth is, you can’t.
“The truth is you can’t be an expert in everything.
“But if you can lean on a SMARTstart, or you can lean on an agency like this, that has a mentor network, that can help you in the areas where you’re not an expert, and allow you to be the expert where you’re an expert,” he said.
Pasco County Commission Chairman Ron Oakley assured those gathered: “The Pasco County Board of County Commissioners is very much committed to the entrepreneurship of our new businesses, and the fact that they can start their own business here in Pasco.”
Published March 03, 2021
A small group of entrepreneurs gathered recently to sell their goods at a drive-thru vendor fair at the University of Florida/Pasco County Extension’s One Stop Shop, at 15029 14th St., in Dade City.
Those wishing to make a purchase could swing by on Oct. 29 from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., to order items and purchase them, from the comfort of their cars.
The idea was to support the small businesses, while providing a safe place to shop, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Participating vendors included Hillbilly Farms Bakery Shops, Charm City Eats, Lanky Lassie’s Shortbread, Superfood Bakeshop, and Chef Sweets of Luminous Concession.
The stories, shared by some small business owners taking part in the event, are as varied as the foods they sold.
Rhoda Mazerolle, of Hillbilly Farms Bakery, previously sold her gluten-free foods from a storefront that she operated with her husband. They have sold that store and have scaled down, but she continues to prepared wholesale foods at the SMARTstart commercial kitchen, at the One Stop Shop.
The commercial kitchen initiative is the result of a partnership between the Pasco Extension Office, which is part of the University of Florida Institute for Food and Agricultural Sciences, Pasco County and Pasco County Economic Development Council Inc., with assistance from Welbilt, an industrial kitchen company.
Amy Henninger, of Charm City Eats, is a newcomer to the Pasco County area — moving here less than two months ago.
She said the commercial kitchen allows her food truck — which specializes in authentic Maryland cuisine — to operate.
Charm City Eats offers such foods as broiled crab cakes, slow-smoked pit beef, Baltimore fried chicken, hot chicken and hand-cut fries.
Getting into the food business is a big departure for her, she said, noting she used to run a copier company in Baltimore.
But, the pandemic has been a turning point, she said.
“I’m going to be turning 40 soon, and I was just sick of the corporate world, and quotas and nonsense, and stress and all of that. I just wanted to do something different and work for myself,” Henninger said.
Plus, her fiancé loves to cook.
Like Henninger, Mary Katherine Mason Souter — who owns Lanky Lassie’s Shortbread — was greatly influenced by the COVID-19 pandemic.
In fact, the entrepreneur said she’s had her shortbread business for years, but it was always a “very, very side hustle, hobby.”
It turned into a full-time career, she said, “100% because of COVID.”
Before turning all of her attention to running a baking company, she did interior designs and selected furniture for hotels.
That came to a halt earlier this year, when she was furloughed in April, then laid off in July.
“Since April, I have made about 5,000 pounds of shortbread,” said the baker, who uses her maiden name, Mason, on her business documents.
Her company’s slogan — “Long legs, short bread” — is a reference to her height, of 6 feet.
She’s grateful for the SMARTstart kitchen.
“Without that kitchen, I would not be able to have my business because in order to be able to ship legally and sell legally online, you have to have your manufacturing license.
“The only way you can have your manufacturing license is to have your commercial kitchen, and it has to be inspected by the Department of Agriculture,” she said.
It turns out that the kitchen is just 2 miles away from where she lives in Dade City.
Dan Mitchell, Pasco EDC’s SMARTstart program coordinator, said “the drive-thru vendor fair was a way for our community to experience the new food businesses that have been developing at the incubator.”
It also gave entrepreneurs a chance to get some feedback and hone their skills, Mitchell added.
Whitney C. Elmore, director of Pasco County Extension, said she’s proud of the vendors who produce their foods at the incubator kitchen.
“They’ve persevered during the pandemic – some had lost their job as a result and we were there, along with Pasco EDC, to provide the resources they needed to start their business,” she said.
“Our vendors provide phenomenal products,” Elmore added, “We were excited to showcase them in a drive-through vendor fair at our One Stop Shop in Dade City.”
Published November 18, 2020
You can indulge in locally baked goods and gourmet specialty items from the comfort of your car and help small businesses — during the drive-up SMARTstart Vendor Fair.
Lanky Lassie’s Shortbread, Superfood Bakeshop, Chef Sweets – Luminous Sweets, Nutoriously Good and other local incubator businesses will be ready with their most popular offerings – ranging from shortbread to organic, gluten-free items packed with superfoods, according to a news release from Pasco County.
Just drive up and you’ll receive online menu access to place an order that will be delivered to your car.
The event is being co-hosted by UF/IFAS Pasco Extension and the Pasco County Economic Development Council Inc.’s SMARTstart program.
Published October 28, 2020
Ever wanted to create your own business or startup?
If you do, the Pasco Economic Development Council’s (Pasco EDC) SMARTstart program may be able to lend a hand, or two.
Essentially, the program is designed to assist entrepreneurs — through a combination of guidance, collaboration, funding, education and workspace opportunities.
SMARTstart program manager Dan Mitchell detailed many of those offerings, at last month’s Greater Pasco Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting Seven Springs Golf Club in New Port Richey.
Mitchell told those gathered: “If you’re an entrepreneur somewhere in the startup phase, or first couple years, we probably have a program that can help benefit you at some point during that journey. You just have to ask.”
Pasco EDC is a private, 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.
Through SMARTstart, it operates two business incubators. One is in Dade City and the other in New Port Richey.
Each offers its own set of unique features, along with affordable desk spaces and professional meeting spaces with Wi-Fi connections.
One of the newer features at the Dade City site, for instance, is an incubator commercial kitchen. It aims to help those looking to launch a food business beyond farmer’s markets and vendor fairs.
Operating at 15029 14th St., the facility features a six-burner range, a single-door refrigerator, a single-door freezer, an under-the-counter ice machine, shelving, and stainless steel work tables. Mitchell said it helps food entrepreneurs facilitate wholesale distribution “to grow to that next level.”
Pasco EDC’s location in West Pasco offers its own digital media studio for podcasting, recording commercials and so on. It comes furnished with a high-quality sound board, four boom mics, green screens and white screens, which can all be used.
In Mitchell’s words, it’s “super neat.”
SMARTstart also offers educational classes, workshops and coaching to aspiring entrepreneurs. The learning sessions cover such topics as cybersecurity, crowdfunding, YouTube and social media marketing. There also are monthly entrepreneur roundtables, often facilitated by retired corporate executives who share their expertise.
Mitchell underscored the value of sessions where fellow entrepreneurs brainstorm, receive mentorship, and discover they’re not alone in their problems or roadblocks of starting a business.
“We know that being an entrepreneur is hard,” he said.
SMARTstart also opens the door for more business-to-business connection for startup entrepreneurs.
The Pasco EDC’s ongoing partnerships with local chambers of commerce, colleges and universities, CareerSource and others, Mitchell said, so it can help business owners make a variety of connections.
In other words, the Pasco EDC’s deep ties throughout the community gives entrepreneurs a chance to network with people they otherwise would never meet.
“We can’t force business to happen, but we can set the table,” Mitchell said.
SMARTstart even has a microloan business financing program, designed for those that can’t secure a loan from a typical bank.
Loans are available for up to $50,000, coming from a revolving fund that must be paid back eventually. To qualify, an entrepreneur or small business owner must demonstrate the experiences and resources to be successful, Mitchell said.
Microloan proceeds may be used for working capital, inventory, supplies, furniture and fixtures, or machinery and equipment.
The program has loaned out a total of $1.5 million to 57 businesses since being established about five years ago, Mitchell said.
The microloan program helps fill a needed niche in business financing, Mitchell said.
“If you’re a startup and the bank says, ‘Sorry, we’re not going to give you money, you’re brand new,’ come to us. We’ll talk to you, we’ll walk you through the process. You still have to have what it takes, but maybe it’s not what the bank is looking for, and just call me and we’ll talk about that,” Mitchell said.
Pasco EDC and SMARTstart also have other initiatives in the works.
They recently sponsored a free mobile application called Startup Space, for Pasco County-based entrepreneurs. It’s similar to a Facebook group, Mitchell said, but just for local entrepreneurs, where they can communicate with one another in real-time, seek advice, post business events and more.
He said of the app, “You can get a little more granular with your questions, and help each other out, ‘Hey, does anyone have a good CPA?’”
The Pasco EDC also is organizing a new event called, “Grow Pasco,” that will bring together about 200 entrepreneurs on May 9 at the Hyatt Place Tampa/Wesley Chapel.
The event’s keynote speaker will be Kevin Harrington, who’s credited with creating the television infomercial and was an original panelist on ABC’s “Shark Tank” hit television series.
The event also will have other guest speakers, panels, workshops and breakout sessions.
For more information, visit PascoEDC.com, or call (813) 926-0827.
Published February 05, 2020
People who want to start a food business — or who already have one and want to make it more successful — received pointers during a SMARTstart program recently at Dade City’s One Stop Shop.
The free program, titled “Food is the Biggest Business,” was presented on Nov. 20 by the Pasco Economic Development Council Inc.
Chef Jeff Philbin of the PPK company moderated the panel, which consisted of Michael Blasco of Tampa Bay Food Trucks; Chef David Robbins of the Harvest & Wisdom restaurant; Shari Bresin of the University of Florida/Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences — Pasco Extension Office; Brian West of Publix Super Markets; and Chris McArthur, owner of Patriot Coffee Roasters.
The panelists took turns informing the attendees about the different aspects of the culinary world.
Building an establishment
“I think one of the most important things you could do is to vet your business idea,” said McArthur, of Patriot Coffee Roasters. “There is no substitute for having a good business plan. It is your road map to success.”
Those venturing into the food industry need an objective that’s both practical and detailed, he advised.
The coffee shop owner said he lost thousands of dollars in his company’s first year. That’s why it’s important for entrepreneurs to surround themselves with mentors and like-minded businesspeople.
West, of Publix, said a company should understand consumer demand, in order to prosper.
“We’re not just looking for a product to put on the shelf. We’re looking for the products that our customers are after,” he said.
West said to remain competitive, a company must focus on at least two of these: quality product, customer service or pricing.
The panelists also discussed the importance of the financial aspects of a business.
“If you’re not an accountant, don’t try to run your own books,” advised Blasco of Tampa Bay Food Trucks. “If you’re not a marketing person, don’t try to do your marketing. Understand what your strengths are and play to them.
“If you have the right accounting team with the right financials, they can show you how to put things in the name of your business and make sure you pay for things pre-tax,” he said.
Financial stability should be at the core of one’s own business, noting that some fail because they didn’t know how to handle their finances, West agreed.
However, good credit, a longstanding relationship with a bank and a solid income can boost the chance of getting a needed loan, Blasco said.
“They usually like to see a business plan that’s very thorough and very detailed, that shows you kind of know what you’re doing. They also like to see experience in the industry you’re going into,” he added.
When purchasing produce from farmers, be sure it’s of good quality, Blasco said. He also noted that while Dade City is known for citrus, because of citrus greening, peaches have become more popular for producing revenue.
The food truck industry
Blasco also offered his insights into the food truck business.
Food truck operators should never keep their food supplies at home, he said.
“It should be stored in a commercial kitchen or a commercial space that the health department or the Department of Business and Professional Regulation have access to.”
One space that’s now available for such storage is the recently renovated incubator kitchen at The One Stop Shop.
Food trucks have been allowed, since 2013, to operate outside of a commercial kitchen if it has the necessary resources, Blasco said. Those include: a fresh water supply, such as a well, that can be tested once a year, and a three-compartment sink in their truck, with hot water.
Blasco said it’s also a good idea for food truck owners to operate in different locations, to improve their livelihood.
Also, it’s important to buy a high-quality truck, he said.
These typically cost at least $40,000. If the truck is selling for $25,000, that’s probably a red flag that the truck is not up to par, he said.
Other food truck operators also can be a good source of support, he said.
“For the most part, it’s a pretty friendly culture. The other food trucks actually are really helpful. So you’ll find that networking with them makes a big difference,” Blasco said.
Providing food that is better for one’s own health is also a key component in the culinary world.
There’s a growing trend with veggie burgers at various fast food chains, Bresin said, noting that consumers are not only vegans, but meat-eaters, as well.
“They’re (restaurants) seeing good results, they’re testing it and people are coming,” she added. “A lot of it is diet and lifestyle.”
Grocery stores, such as Publix, also are offering these alternatives, as well.
The food chain is marking tags on products that may be healthier than others, West said.
He also noted that Publix has been implementing in-store dieticians to offer customers advice on changing their diet and losing weight.
And, the term “organic” doesn’t necessarily apply to produce sprayed with pesticides, which businesses should disclose to their customers, Blasco said.
Chef Robbins said in addition to all of the practical advice, it’s important for entrepreneurs to understand why they got into the food business in the first place.
“Know truly what your motivation is, because at the end of the day, there’s going to be a lot of ups and downs — no matter how good you are, no matter how well-planned things are,” Robbins said.
Published December 04, 2019
An incubator kitchen has opened in Dade City, to promote economic development through food businesses.
The new facility is a collaborative effort between University of Florida’s Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (UF/IFAS)-Pasco County extension, the Pasco Economic Development Council, Inc.’s SMARTstart incubator program and Pasco County.
The kitchen was officially unveiled on Sept. 23, during a ribbon cutting at the Stallings Building, in Dade City.
Pasco County Commission Chairman Ron Oakley, told those gathered, “This kitchen is going to do great things for Pasco County. It’s going to start those businesses off, and then they’re going to create jobs.”
The incubator will be operated in a renovated kitchen, where participants will learn culinary skills and entrepreneurs will have a launchpad for new businesses.
Dr. Whitney Elmore said she had that vision in mind, when she first saw the building five years ago.
“Turning this corner out here on 14th Street, I saw this county-owned (Stallings)building sitting unused in a community that was, frankly, in need of resource development and economic opportunity.
“I saw this building’s potential to become an educational outreach center where members of the community, and all of Pasco County, could come for educational services and furthermore, empowerment,” Elmore said.
The Stallings Building, also now known as the One Stop Shop, was established in 1991.
It had been vacant when Elmore, the director for the Pasco Extension Office, came across it.
She has helped to establish the building as a hub for educational classes and food demonstrations.
The kitchen was not in a suitable condition for showing demonstrations, Elmore said.
The renovation has been three years in the making, she added.
The $30,000-project included refurbishing the oven hood, installing a built-in grease trap and new ceiling tiles. There also is a pantry closet to store dry foods and other products.
Welbilt, a kitchen equipment company, donated a stove, oven, a three-compartment sink, stainless steel counters, an ice maker, a fridge and a freezer.
“Not only did they donate that kitchen equipment that you see in there,” the director said, “they helped us figure out what needs to go where, to optimize safety and to optimize utility of the different parts.”
And Welbilt is planning to do more, Elmore said.
Oakley said the project is a “public-private partnership, working together for the betterment of the community.”
After the ceremonial ribbon cutting, guests had the opportunity to tour the newly-built kitchen.
What sets the incubator kitchen apart from other commercial kitchens, said Elmore, is that it’s open to the public to stock and preserve food.
The kitchen can be a learning space and can serve as a stock room, for a culinary instructor about to teach a class.
The storage space can be used by food trucks, too.
Those using the kitchen for storage will pay a fee.
Dan Mitchell, manager of Pasco Economic Development Council’s SMARTstart incubator program, has been involved in the project, too.
SMARTstart offers memberships so people can take advantage of the kitchen.
“When we start a new entrepreneur [as] a member, we build an action plan for them,” Mitchell explained. “If they think it’s going to take them a year to launch, we meet with them once a month, we coach them, we hold them accountable and we help them get to that launch date.”
Elmore said the kitchen will help people develop skills to be culinary entrepreneurs. She also thinks it will be an incentive for migrant workers to stay within the region.
Elmore also believes the kitchen will give people healthier food options, which will lead to fewer chronic illnesses.
The kitchen could help reduce crime, too, she said.
“We know through many different models all across the nation, and all kinds of studies, that if you offer economic opportunity, job growth development [and] educational services, that you can cut down on the crime,” Elmore explained.
And with a community garden based outside the Stallings Building, the kitchen provides a convenient space for preparing one’s own produce.
Long-term plans include starting an educational program for single mothers to become businesswomen within the food industry, as well as adding new incubator kitchens throughout Pasco County.
“That’s our goal,” said Mitchell, “to knock down the barriers to entries to starting a business, and be that launching pad.”