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Hillsborough moves ahead with business resource center

Published May 22, 2014

TAMPA — Hillsborough County commissioners moved forward Wednesday with a plan to create a new business resource center to help entrepreneurs and startups.

The new center, Commissioner Sandy Murman said, is an "earth-shaking proposal" to foment economic development.

Hillsborough now operates a Small Business Information Center on N 56th Street, east of Tampa, on roughly $500,000 annually. The new "Entrepreneur Collaborative Center" would probably be in Ybor City and require the county to double the budget to about $1 million, according to Ron Barton, the county's economic development chief.

Details like an exact cost and time line were not included in Wednesday's presentation by Barton. The center would provide mentoring for local entrepreneurs and would help connect them with small-business loans.

Barton suggested county tax money could be leveraged into loans, a proposal met with skepticism by Commissioner Kevin Beckner. "I would have deep concerns about government entering into venture capitalism," he said.

Commission Chairman Mark Sharpe praised the preliminary plan and said he'd be interested in proposals to leverage county money for loans.

"This is risky. It's different," Sharpe said. "This is a whole new world we're operating in."

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