NEW PORT RICHEY — About 150 city, county and state leaders witnessed the official opening of the SMARTStart business incubator last week in downtown New Port Richey.
Randy Berridge provided the biggest surprise with a pledge of $50,000 to the project that cultivates startup businesses. Berridge is president of Florida High Tech Corridor Council, which is affiliated with University of South Florida.
Ann Clark, co-founder with Jeffrey Hilton of Brilliant Factory, greeted the officials on hand, including Pasco County Administrator Michele Baker. The firm is the first of five tenants to set up shop at SMARTStart, housed in the former post office at 6345 Grand Blvd.
John Hagen and Krista Covey led the delegation from Pasco Economic Development Council that manages the incubator program. Hagen is president and CEO of PEDC, while Covey is the economic development manager overseeing incubators in New Port Richey and Dade City.
“Community support is so important to the success of this program and our entrepreneurs,” Covey said. Mentoring, counseling, networking and other resources can help firms expand.
The tenants can “be around other like-minded entrepreneurs, to feed off each other’s energy, to brainstorm with each other and to have that understanding that you’re not alone,” Covey said.
About 20 percent of businesses don’t make it past five years, but 87 percent of firms that go through an incubation program endure, Covey pointed out. In addition, 84 percent of firms in an incubator stay within the community once they expand into their own quarters.
Mayor Rob Marlowe recalled helping at the April 2013 community cleanup at the long-vacant building. Rivera and public works crews “did most of the heavy lifting” renovating the structure.
“Our goal is to see these businesses flourish, grow, and then have to move into some of the empty suites on Grand Boulevard” in the downtown area, Marlowe said to enthusiastic applause.
“We will build to suit,” Marlowe said with a chuckle about city-owned property down the block from the incubator. The parcel has been vacant since the former Baptist church was torn down.
Pasco Commission Chairman Jack Mariano hailed the efforts to nurture home-grown businesses. Commissioner Henry Wilson also appreciated the initiative.
“This is a great day in Pasco County,” Mariano commented. “Let’s give Randy Berridge another (round of) applause for $50,000. Working with Randy and the super region, it just shows this region is not just New Port Richey, it’s not just Pasco County, it’s not just Tampa Bay, it’s the (entire) corridor” along I-4.
Mariano noted the city is receiving $1 million in state funds for the renovation of the historic Hacienda hotel at Main and Bank streets.
“This little microcosm here is going to grow and grow, up and down the coast,” Mariano remarked.
The renewal of Penny for Pasco sales tax revenue will incorporate economic redevelopment funds, starting in 2015, Mariano emphasized.
“This incubator program is the heart and soul of what Pasco County should be about,” Mariano said about growing businesses. “As Krista said, when a small business succeeds here, they usually stay right here. So let’s keep it rolling.”
Other guests included Chip Wichmanowski, president of West Pasco Chamber of Commerce; Dan Sullivan, executive director of the Trinity-Odessa Chamber; former West Pasco Chamber of Commerce President Joe Alpine, an advisor to the Trinity-Odessa Chamber; and Joe Marina, district manager of Withlacoochee River Electric Cooperative.