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New incubator seeks to aid west Pasco businesses

DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD  |  Times   Flanked by bales of insulation and testing equipment, Sara Melucci, 38, co-owner of Gulf Coast Heating & Cooling, left, takes an impromptu business meeting with advertising representatives Brittany Thompson, foreground, and Wendy Longley, right, at the company's office on Monday (11/13/17) at the West Pasco Entrepreneur Center in New Port Richey. The Pasco Economic Development Council's new west side business incubator resides within the former Bank of America building on U.S. 19 just outside New Port Richey.
DOUGLAS R. CLIFFORD | Times Flanked by bales of insulation and testing equipment, Sara Melucci, 38, co-owner of Gulf Coast Heating & Cooling, left, takes an impromptu business meeting with advertising representatives Brittany Thompson, foreground, and Wendy Longley, right, at the company's office on Monday (11/13/17) at the West Pasco Entrepreneur Center in New Port Richey. The Pasco Economic Development Council's new west side business incubator resides within the former Bank of America building on U.S. 19 just outside New Port Richey.
Published Nov. 15, 2017

NEW PORT RICHEY — Sara Melucci is a bit of a nomad.

In the less than two years she and her husband have owned Gulf Coast Heating & Cooling, she has worked from a former city-owned business incubator in New Port Richey, her home in Spring Hill, the Pasco Economic Development Council's SMARTstart incubator in Dade City and now from the PEDC's new entrepreneur center on U.S. 19 in west Pasco.

"I'm trying to build a team of employees and every team needs a clubhouse,'' Melucci, 38, said about swapping a home-based business for working from the entrepreneur center.

Gulf Coast Heating & Cooling, which improves energy efficiency in residences and small businesses, is the initial for-profit business to set up shop in the new entrepreneur center in the north end of the Bank of America branch at 4532 U.S. 19.

Melucci's one-person office features mostly blank walls except for a business tax receipt from Tax Collector Mike Fasano and a Business and Professional Women membership. One corner has a metal rack lined with equipment and sitting in the floor space behind her computer screen is a pile of packages containing air conditioning ducts.

"My living room and dining room had turned into this,'' she said, pointing to the organized clutter.

Melucci and her husband, Ranier, have benefited from the PEDC's micro-loan program and mentoring from Pasco Hernando SCORE, which, coincidentally now occupies the office right next door to Melucci's. The Meluccis have owned their business since January 2016, are turning a profit and now expanding. They've hired another technician, bringing the payroll to four people, and have ambitions to add additional vehicles, employees and warehouse space over the next year.

That is the desired result for the entrepreneur center, which planned a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Thursday, Nov. 16 to christen its new location. It fills a void that has existed in west Pasco for the past 18 months after the business incubator in downtown New Port Richey closed because one of its tenants, Tampa Bay Multimedia Inc., grew enough to lease most of the available space in the building.

"That's the business we're supposed to be in,'' said Bill Cronin, president and CEO of the PEDC.

Since its inception in 2013, the PEDC's incubator program has helped businesses create 137 jobs. But a business incubator is more than bricks and mortar. The PEDC has partnered with SCORE, Pasco Hernando State College, Saint Leo University, Career Source, the state Small Business Development Center and others to run classes and programs for the business tenants and additional members who work outside the premises.

"The goal is to really look at your business as a whole and create the environment for the right type of development for your business,'' said Tari Mitchell, SMARTstart incubator program manager for the west Pasco location.

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Part of Mitchell's job will be to knock on doors to make the business community aware of the entrepreneur center's assets and to help fill the remaining nine spaces inside the 4,000-square-foot space.

Cronin said the location in west Pasco is important, particularly because of retail departures from the area in recent years that have included Macy's JCPenney, Target and Kmart departing the U.S. 19 corridor. It has left the vicinity with an abundance of small businesses and, he said, the entrepreneur center can serve as a business outreach center for them.

Working in a single location does benefit the business owners within the incubator, both Cronin and Marlucci said. They receive the advantage of working among like-minded people willing to share their own entrepreneurial experiences.

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