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Outlook for small business in Hillsborough: hopeful

TAMPA — The economy may still seem shaky going into the new year, but small businesses in Tampa Bay appear to be taking a more upbeat approach heading into 2014.

The positive consensus emerged from a large gathering of small-business owners who celebrated the holidays at a recent mixer of local chambers of commerce. The attitude going forward for many who started their small businesses before the recession struck in 2008: cautious optimism.

From staffing services to social media marketing to virtual office administration, small businesses seem poise to expand their products and services, hire more people and, in some cases, move to larger locations.

For Express Employment Professionals in Temple Terrace, the recent news that Tampa Bay leads the state in job growth has underscored its feeling that Tampa will help lead the state out of the recession. Every year, 10 percent of all workers find regular employment through a staffing company and Express wants to meet and surpass that mark in 2014.

"Our fast-growing industries include hospitality, educational services and health care," according to Melissa Greenberg, owner of the staffing franchise group that has four additional locations in North and South Dakota. "Gambling and recreation continue to show growth also because of the general increase in tourism.

"The other top growth areas for jobs here in Tampa Bay are food services, local government, nursing and residential care."

Greenberg's plans for her staffing company include expansion into the health care recruitment market because of the demand in Tampa Bay and an aging population.

North Tampa Chamber of Commerce president Ginger Rockey-Johnson, who is the CEO of Spice Girl of Tampa Bay, a social media branding and Internet marketing company, and a radio personality, has acquired two other companies: Monster Mixers and Plan B Expo. Both cater to small-business marketing. She wants to expand her services in 2014 by offering basic coaching for book publishing, which she said is the biggest marketing trend these days.

"Everybody's got a story to tell and authoring a book can set your business apart," Rockey-Johnson said. "I want to offer a concierge of services, a step-by-step coaching strategy which walks you through the basics right up to designing your book cover."

Rockey-Johnson said her niche is valuable to small businesses at the right price points. She's looking to hire four employees in 2014 in the areas of customer service and technology.

In South Tampa, Hands on Sweets recently opened to fill a niche that Tampa lacks for specialty baking and nontraditional cake decoration. The husband-and-wife team of chefs Marie Martinez and Carlos Ramirez say business is off to a good start, so much so they are considering ways to expand their business into wholesale production for certain sweet products.

"The custom cake portion of our business is considered an art, and as such, we prefer to continue creating our own cakes," said Ramirez, who manages the business. "On the other hand, as we get into wholesale of certain standardized products, we look forward to hiring staff and maybe even outgrowing our current facility, which could happen within the next few years."

Hands on Sweets will spend most of its annual revenue in the coming year on marketing and capital improvements. Ramirez said that since they just opened in the fall, there is plenty of room for marketing and new baking equipment will most certainly improve the efficiency and quality of the company's products and services.

The Brandon/Riverview area has proven to be a good location for small businesses that have launched in the last few years despite the recession because of its continued commercial and residential growth.

Scott Robinson, a licensed massage therapist and wellness consultant, started A Touch of Wellness in Brandon in 2008 after he was downsized working for several chiropractors in various clinics. Robinson, who was recently elected to the Brandon Area Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors, is happy to be on the "front lines" as more small businesses emerge in the area.

"I truly believe there are many people recognizing the fact that they are at the mercy of their employer, so I foresee many people taking the leap of faith to start a business or have an additional income with a home-based business," he said. "If you look at the Brandon area, you can see economic development all over the place. The upscale restaurants, the expanding mall, the thousands of homes; it's the place to be."

Debra Neal agrees. The licensed aesthetician, who left the corporate world more than a year ago to start her own small company north of Interstate 4 in Tampa called Feelin' & Lookin' Good, agrees that Hillsborough County is a good place to do business because of its growth.

"There's a lot of disposable income out there and it all depends on what people are looking for. I'm anticipating the economy will pick up. You have to be positive to get positive results out of life."

Kathryn Moschella can be reached at hillsnews@tampabay.com.

Outlook for small business in Hillsborough: hopeful 12/31/13 [Last modified: Tuesday, December 31, 2013 5:39pm]

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