The Pasco County Economic Development Council, typically associated with attempts to attract larger companies and high-wage jobs to the area, recently began thinking smaller.
After meeting last year with county groups such as chambers of commerce, the workforce board and other support groups, the public-private partnership is unveiling the Pasco Enterprise Network, a Web portal aimed at helping entrepreneurs start a business and current small businesses expand or stay afloat in a tough economy.
"A large percentage of Pasco County's economy is supported by small businesses," says John Hagen, EDC president and CEO. "By helping to ensure that these small businesses succeed and grow, (the portal) will boost our job creation and business expansion efforts."
The effort began soon after Hagen arrived last year from Surprise, Ariz., and noticed how the county was large, decentralized and home to few big firms. For example, the county has six chambers of commerce that operate independently. Other agencies, such as the Service Corps of Retired Executives, operated independently of the chambers.
Hagen knew navigating that could be a nightmare. 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.
Around the same time, 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.
Hagen called a meeting and invited every small business support group in the county to form a one-stop shop for entrepreneurs.
The site includes databases to help potential business owners get demographic information and other help. It also will benefit business groups by capturing e-mail addresses of those who register. The groups then can invite those people to training or networking events. It also includes a central calendar of networking and training opportunities.
"Often, people who decide to start their own business underestimate the demands of running a business and don't know where to turn for help," said Sean Malott, who runs business recruitment and expansion for the EDC. "The PEN website (www.pascoedc.com) links business owners to free services that can improve their chances of success."
Through PEN's partners, new business owners are able to find basic business training classes covering all aspects of running a business, match with free professional consultants that offer practical, hands-on help geared to their needs, and get referrals to financing and funding sources.
PEN's partner agencies include the Small Business Development Center at USF (SBDC), the Pasco-Hernando Workforce Board (Career Central), Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE), the Pasco Economic Development Council, the Dade City Chamber of Commerce, Central Pasco Chamber of Commerce, Pasco-Hernando Hispanic Chamber of Commerce, Wesley Chapel Chamber of Commerce, West Pasco Chamber of Commerce and Zephyrhills Chamber of Commerce, the Pasco Library System, Pasco-Hernando Community College and Saint Leo University.