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USF opens small business assistance center in Hernando

BROOKSVILLE — Should I follow my dream of opening a cafe? How do I bid on a government contract? Can I afford to expand my business?

These are the questions that keep entrepreneurs and small- business owners awake at night.

Here's a little good news: help finding answers to those and other questions just got a little easier in Hernando County.

This month, the Small Business Development Center at the University of South Florida opened a satellite office on Aviation Loop Drive, located within the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce in the Hernando County Airport Industrial Park.

County officials said the new office would provide much-needed support and expertise for people who need help starting or growing a business.

"At least 25 people call me a week with a wide variety of questions: How do I market my own business? How do I get on the Internet? How can I get a contract with MacDill (Air Force Base)?" said Valerie Pianta, program coordinator for the Hernando County Office of Business Development.

Funded in part by the Small Business Administration, the SBDC at USF covers 10 counties, from Sarasota and Highlands to Hernando. Services include one-on-one business counseling, training on topics such as Internet strategy, international trade, business taxes, and certification for contractors run by minorities, women, veterans or other groups.

The satellite center in Hernando, which was an objective of the economic development plan presented last spring by county business development director Mike McHugh, has been in the works for more than a year.

The center will bring a new level of training for things like federal contracting assistance, international trade workshops and minority certification, said McHugh.

Funding for the satellite office, including the full-time consultant, is shared between the SBDC at USF and the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce, which received a grant for the position through the Pasco-Hernando Workforce Board.

"This will provide a whole other level of business support that has not been here consistently," said Pat Crowley, president of the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce. Before, people had to go to Tampa for SBDC services, she said.

"When you're a small-business owner and you have to drive an hour for a three-hour class, you've left your business unattended," Pianta said.

Eileen Rodriguez, Regional Director for SBDC at USF, agreed.

"We've never had a physical presence in Hernando County before. Traveling to all the way to Tampa can be a hardship," Rodriguez said "We're doing a much better job of serving the community this way."

SBDC business analyst Learline Shorty will serve in the new Hernando County position on an interim basis until the position is filled.

Shary Lyssy Marshall can be reached at

To reach the SBDC office in Hernando County, call 352-796-0697.

To learn more

To reach the SBDC office in Hernando County, call (352) 796-0697.

USF opens small business assistance center in Hernando 09/15/10 [Last modified: Wednesday, September 15, 2010 8:23pm]
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