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Vaccine here for companies fighting "business death'

(ran West edition)

It's tough getting a business started. It can be even harder to keep it going. And if a business fails, more than just the owner and employees are hurt.

The fallout can include companies that rent space to the business, shareholders, even other taxpayers in the area who must take up the slack from the lost revenue.

To help prevent business death and the ripple effect it can have, the county has created a business assistance program to help solve problems before they get out of hand. And now, the county has joined with the city and the Pinellas Park/Mid-County Chamber of Commerce to bring that program to Pinellas Park.

Each of the entities has donated $15,000 in cash or in kind to kick off the program.

"The way the city looks at it is as an enhancement to our programs," said Mike Gustafson, Pinellas Park's assistant city manager. "It helps existing businesses."

Gustafson added, "We only have one person who can do that . . . . It's great to have another person out there, especially one that's not a city employee. Businesses may be more apt to talk to them and share their concerns."

Although the city decided several months ago to join the eight other Pinellas cities that offer the business assistance program, it was not until this month that the program was actually begun with the hiring of Jeffrey Girard as the city's business assistance specialist.

"This is a dream job," Girard said last week. "I just think it's terrific. You're going out to the community and you're offering help to people. It's a free service . . . . It's a nice way to spend the day."

Girard, 51, can offer potential clients an understanding ear. The St. Petersburg native owned his own business, Automobilia, for about seven years. The company specialized in automotive collectible material.

After that, Girard was a Realtor with Arvida Realty Services for about eight years before signing on as Pinellas Park's business assistance specialist, operating out of an office at the Chamber of Commerce, which is temporarily located on the second floor of ParkSide mall, 7200 U.S. 19 N. The chamber will be there for about 18 months, until the city finishes building a headquarters for it and the Art and Historical societies.

Girard's job has multiple levels. He's supposed to visit at least 10 businesses a month to survey what services are needed. He's also supposed to help businesses that need it, from finding a location to hiring employees to negotiating with zoning officials. The business itself could be a mom-and-pop operation or a Fortune 500 company.

If you're interested

If you're a Pinellas Park business owner and want information about the city's new business assistance partnership program, call Jeffrey Girard at the Pinellas Park/Mid-County Chamber of Commerce, 544-4777. If you're a business owner in unincorporated Pinellas, you can get information about the county program by calling Cynthia Spearman, senior manager of the business assistance partnership program, 464-7332.