Soon after taking the reins of the Pasco County Economic Development Council, John Hagen noticed a few things.
One, Pasco County is really big. Two, it's decentralized. Three, it's home to few big companies.
"Most of the businesses here are small," said Hagen. He wanted to do something to help those who might have good ideas for products or services but don't know how to sell them.
Hagen, who is the economic development agency's chief executive officer, wasn't the only one with that idea. Staffers at the Pasco County Library System were thinking along the same lines. They got a $145,000 federal grant to help start and grow businesses.
The EDC then called together all the county's various agencies that assist businesses. The meeting included representation from the regional workforce board, the Service Corps of Retired Executives and the county's five chambers of commerce. A sixth regional chamber of commerce for Hispanic-owned businesses also will be invited to participate.
The result of the meeting is a group that includes everyone and serves as a clearinghouse for those seeking help.
"We're going to have to work together more closely," Hagen said. "If we're going to attract businesses, we need to get our act together for them."
The group is now working on a web portal that will pull together all the resources for entrepreneurs in one place.
"It's the no-wrong-door approach," said Linda Allen, director of the county's library system. "There is one central location. No matter what answer you're looking for, you can find somebody on that network who can help you."
The site will have databases to help potential business owners get demographic information and other business-related help.
"You can even find the amount of cheese purchased in a specific ZIP code," Allen said.
In addition, the library also plans to get laptops with business planning software.
"So few people know whom to contact," said David West, executive director for the Greater Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce. West said his board had recently decided the group's primary mission was to help existing businesses grow, but members wanted to act as a liaison to help take the guesswork out of figuring out where to turn.
"We wanted to have a central place where someone could raise their hand and say, 'help,' " he said.
The website will also benefit business groups by capturing e-mail addresses of those who register. The groups then can invite those people to training sessions or networking events.
"We're going to try to cement this thing and make sure we have some formal agreements," said Jerome Salatino, director of the Pasco Hernando Jobs and Education Partnership, which serves as the region's workforce board.
Joey Wubbena, chairman of the Greater Dade City Chamber of Commerce, praised the effort, which organizers hope will lead to more collaboration.
"I've worked in government for 27 years, and I truly support nonduplication," he said. "We all should all be banging the same drum."
Now the effort remains "in its infancy," Hagen said. Look for a formal announcement this fall.