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Promise of business help draws big response


With their dreams they came: a janitor, a nurse, a housewife among the dozens aspiring to own businesses or learn how to better run the ones they already have.

In a response that seemed to surprise organizers, who quickly ran out of applications, about 80 people showed up Monday evening at the Allstate Center of St. Petersburg Junior College to hear about a program that would teach them how to start or expand a business.

The Florida Department of Labor and Employment Security has allocated $75,000 to the St. Petersburg Employment and Economic Development Corp. (SEEDCO) to administer the program for residents in areas affected by last fall's disturbances.

"This is a response to what we know is a plea for help to move St. Petersburg forward," said Doug Jamerson, Florida's secretary of labor, who will speak Saturday during the program's orientation seminar. "I'm coming down to show my support for the efforts of expanding small and minority businesses."

Three days before the seminar, many details remained unsettled.

The program will be limited to only about 30 participants, said Yate (Yah-tay) Cutliff, president of the SEEDCO board of directors, but despite Monday's overflow crowd, more residents are being encouraged to apply. Candidates must meet certain eligibility requirements, and organizers are expecting some will drop out.

Classes have been announced for Monday and Wednesday nights, with makeup sessions on Saturdays, but spokeswoman Marva Dennard said classes may be regularly scheduled for Saturdays for those who work at nights.

Additionally, whether the eight-week program will continue after its scheduled June completion depends on additional funding. And though guest speakers are expected to help, the firm that will administer the program could not name specific instructors.

"This is our first major project," said Cutliff, who is a lawyer.

SEEDCO, a non-profit agency unrelated to the city of St. Petersburg, was founded in 1994 to develop, fund and start programs to provide training, jobs and affordable housing for low- and moderate-income residents in the area that runs from Central to 22nd Avenue S and 16th to 34th Street S.

Cutliff said the non-profit organization has chosen Transitional Concepts, a Tampa firm, to provide the classes. "It had provided a similar program in Tampa," she said.

Bill Huff, president of Transitional Concepts, said his company was established only earlier this month.

Said Philip Nochlin of the Florida Department of Labor: "He came to me personally on the recommendation of a very respected source from the (African-American Leadership) Coalition as the only person that had a competent track record in this field."

Huff's organization, he said, was one of 15 or 20 considered to provide the program.

"My understanding was that he was operating in a similar capacity before," said Nochlin. "We had thought to do an abbreviated competitive bid for this award, but in order to get this program to the affected area within the allotted time frame, we had to request and we did successfully obtain an emergency declaration from the Department of Labor. Which meant that in the interest of public safety we had to select a vendor immediately."

Huff, who said he also works for a computer firm and has a background in accounting and finance, added: "I've got the background, the experience and the tools to deliver the instructional training. We will have guest speakers, and we have training materials that the participants will be given, and we also have the participants themselves. They are a valuable resource to this program."

Reginald Davis is a salesman and art broker who attended Monday night's session.

"I sell other people's art. I work with about 3,000 artists worldwide," he said. "I am always looking for ways to improve my business. I think it can probably help me polish some skills I already have, probably open financial sources for me, probably help me put together a better presentation. And also I wanted to see prospective entrepreneurs, the people who are willing to turn loose the trunk of the tree and go out on the limb to get the fruit."

Carolyn Parker, a housewife, told the group that she wants to establish a bridal boutique.

"I just got married about 10 months ago and I had to go all across to Tampa to find something I liked," she said. "It just dawned on me I have never seen an African-American that owns a boutique. I am going to do that."

Candidates must meet guidelines established by the state Department of Labor.

Applicants can be of any ethnic group but must have lost their jobs as a result of an event, in this case the civil unrest last fall in St. Petersburg, Nochlin said. Also eligible are those who have lost their jobs or businesses and have been laid off and are eligible for or have exhausted their unemployment benefits. In addition, those considered long-term unemployed also are eligible.


An orientation seminar is scheduled from 2 to 5 p.m. Saturday at the Enoch Davis Center, 1111 18th Ave. S. The keynote speaker is Doug Jamerson, Florida secretary of labor. For information, call 823-4424.