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Business Outlook 2006

Business newcomers take lessons in success

The chamber's Entrepreneurial Academy is designed to help small businesses get off to a smoother start.

Published February 19, 2006

As a former restaurateur, Pat Crowley knows well the pitfalls of running a small business. The challenge of obtaining financing, the battle to find and keep able-bodied staff, and the frustration of trying to get proper permits are all things that make launching a profitable small business a tough job.

Which is why, in her first year as executive director of the Greater Hernando County Chamber of Commerce, Crowley saw fit to target the growing number of first-time small-business owners setting up shop in the county. She saw the need for her organization to provide more user-friendly services such seminars and workshops where small-business owners could get low-cost help in planning their futures.

Proof of that effort's support can be found in the success of the chamber-sponsored Entrepreneurial Academy, a 10-week crash course aimed at small-business newbies that was launched in January. The initial offering of 40 slots had to be increased to accommodate an enrollment of 53.

Crowley isn't surprised by the turnout.

"What we're seeing is a small boom that coincides with the county's rapid growth," she said. "The goal is to help those people build a strong foundation for their businesses that we hope will lead them to success."

With about 85 percent of the chamber of commerce membership made up of entrepreneurial efforts, Crowley sees the great potential for business growth as more baby boomers enter retirement age. And she thinks the chamber will continue to play an important role as those businesses come on line.

"Whether you're opening a Quiznos franchise or a bicycle shop, there are basic things that are necessary in order for a business to grow and survive, no matter what the overall business climate is like," she said.

For that reason, Crowley sees great potential in places such as the Outlet Shopping Mall on U.S. 19, which caters to small-end entrepreneurs looking for affordable space to set up a fledgling business. Housed in the former Wal-Mart store, the mall, which opened in November 2004, is home to about 150 businesses, owner Frank Territo said.

"It's all about getting back to basics," said Territo, who spent 20 years managing outlet malls in South Florida.

Territo's operation, however, is set up specifically to offer affordable space that even limited startup budgets can handle. Rent is $250 a month for a kiosk-sized booth that includes electricity and insurance. The diversity of the mall's clientele makes for a steady flow of traffic, Territo said.

"You have flea markets and outlet malls, but there's nothing else in between," he said. "It's kind of like a modern version of the old town square."

With tenants including clothing and shoe outlets, a music store, a cell phone accessory shop, as well as a farmer's market, realty offices, and even a couple of Internet businesses, Territo said he is answering a necessary call in today's business climate.

"The idea here is to provide a safe, clean alternative to a high-priced strip mall where a business owner can use his own knowledge and turn a profit," he said. "Our country was founded on that. And this is proof that it still works."

[Last modified February 19, 2006, 01:08:19]

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