TAMPA — What's the biggest gripe of small businesses trying to grow during this feeble recovery?
Too much regulation and lack of financing are still cited as perennial obstacles to growth.
But if a small business forum here this week is any indication, a third concern hovers toward the top of the list: Despite unemployment pushing 9 percent, it's still too hard to find good help.
"We're in manufacturing … and that's probably the No 1 problem we have is finding qualified people," Andy Malcolm, president of Clearwater-based surge protector maker Advanced Protection Technologies, said during a panel discussion kicking off the two-day Small Business Leadership Forum.
"Let me be clear: We have a problem," said fellow panelist Deborah Duffey, president of Dermazone Solutions, a St. Petersburg company that uses nanotechnologies to make natural skin care products work faster and smarter.
In addition to seeking graduates of St. Petersburg College, Eckerd College and other universities with limited success, Duffey also tried "importing" people from other states, but the area's poor reputation in public education dissuaded recruits. She urged more government training funds, particularly oriented toward science-based jobs.
For Harold Boyett, who runs a same-day delivery service based in Jacksonville called Blue Streak Couriers, soliciting job applicants online isn't the problem. He's frustrated that so many of them fail to subsequently show up for their scheduled interviews.
"Some just checked off a box" to show they're trying to find a job as a prerequisite to receiving unemployment insurance, Boyett said to a large round of applause. His suggestion: cut off unemployment benefits sooner to motivate job seekers.
Florida already has one of the lowest unemployment benefits, with a maximum payout of $275 a week, and the state has cut the length of benefits to between 12 weeks and 23 weeks. Florida also is currently considered the toughest state to receive unemployment aid, with only 49 percent of applicants deemed eligible compared to 71 percent nationwide, according to a recent analysis.
The forum, co-organized by Florida Chief Financial Officer Jeff Atwater and the Jim Moran Institute within Florida State University's College of Business, drew nearly 200 small business entrepreneurs, economic development advisers and university reps to the Westin Harbor Island.
Among industries represented are manufacturing, construction, hospitality, leisure, financial services, professional services and life sciences.
Jeff Harrington can be reached at (727) 893-8242 or [email protected]