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Red carpet out for newcomers

Rooftops and retail are spreading throughout the county. Roads are going in and development is pushing Pasco to become more than a retirement community.

Now is the time to thrive in Pasco County, say area business leaders _ and they want to help.

From workshops and speakers to startup guides and CDs, the focus of this week's 11th annual Business Development Week is on helping newcomers to locate here and existing businesses to grow. The West Pasco Chamber of Commerce and the County Commission are co-sponsoring the week's events.

"There's a lot of growth in Pasco County," said Paul Szuch, co-chairman of Business Development Week's 2004 committee and a vice president at Pasco-Hernando Community College. The county has "affordability, access," he said. "It's a growing, vibrant community, and businesses are reflecting that."

The week's kickoff luncheon on Monday saw more than 260 attendees (up from 200 last year), including several county commissioners and Sheriff Bob White. And the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce showcase afterward drew a range of exhibitors, among them new companies planning to expand into Pasco in 2004.

"I've always lived in Pasco County and I think it would be a great niche for us," said Jeanette Lucadano with R.J.L. Pension Services Inc. in Tampa. The company helps small business owners set up pension plans, 401(k)s and benefits and is planning a move to Trinity in five months.

That's just the type of newcomer that chamber officials had in mind when they created a new 2004-2005 "Essential Guide to Starting and Operating a Small Business in Pasco County."

"We had a lot of people come in and want to start up in Pasco," said chamber coordinator Judy Park, who is organizing the $45,000 week of events. "But newcomers would say "I don't know who my power company is, my water company,' because we have five municipalities in Pasco. We just wanted to make it easier for them."

About 1,000 guides and mini-discs were produced and are available for free throughout the county and at the area chambers, county offices and multiple businesses, said Joe Alpine, president of the West Pasco Chamber of Commerce.

Using the disc, people "will be able to access the Web sites of the IRS, SCORE, Career Central and agencies of the state and on and on," he said.

In addition to such tools, sponsors are hosting a number of events this week.

Today is a "Success Stories Breakfast" from 7:30 to 9 a.m. at Seven Springs Country Club, followed by workshops at PHCC's west campus on Ridge Road. Sessions include federal income tax, referral marketing, hiring, technology, how to use media dollars, and a discussion on affirmative action.

Wednesday highlights include a 7 p.m. panel discussion and live cable broadcast in Land O' Lakes on fostering business growth with Pasco's five chambers of commerce and the Pasco Economic Development Council.

In Wesley Chapel on Thursday, session topics at Saddlebrook Resort include a presentation by speaker Bill Fruth on "Punitive Growth Management Rules."

Also on Thursday are SCORE workshops on how to start, plan and fund a small business. Late afternoon and evening events are scheduled at River Ridge High School. The topic is "Investment in Our Future" _ presented by the Pasco County School Board.

Friday's events at various locations include workshops that are eligible for continuing education credits on topics such as labor and liability for small employers.

Final workshops are on workers' compensation and HIPAA. A Business Development Week Expo will run from Friday through Sunday at Gulf View Square mall.

For information and schedules visit www.westpasco.com or call (727) 842-7651.

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