Building on tourism base, Mount Dora works toward economic expansion.

Building on its existing tourism base, Mount Dora hopes to find ways to expand the local economic and attract new types of business. (Photo by Michael Freeman).

MOUNT DORA – Like a lot of cities across Central Florida, Mount Dora felt the full impact of the collapse of the housing market, and has spent the past few years trying to recover.
“We’ve been hit like everybody else as property values have come down,” said Mount Dora City Manager Mike Quinn, in an interview with Freeline Media. “But what’s nice about Mount Dora is the decreases have not been as severe as in some other communities.”
He credits that to the city’s strong tourism base, and to the city’s efforts to maintain good services on a tighter budget.
At the same time, the city is also trying to assist local businesses – both the existing ones that have weathered the economic storm, and entrepreneurs as well. Part of that involves building on this North Lake County city’s existing strengths, Quinn said, while the other key aspect of that is finding ways to nurture growth in other segments of the city’s economy.
“We obviously have a big tourism base here, and there’s always small businesses that want to fit into that tourism model,” he said. “But we also have another sector that isn’t tourism-based. A lot of that is along the (U.S.) 441 corridor, for the other businesses that are providing services not in tourism.”
To assist both sector of the local economy, the City of Mount Dora is now partnering with Lake County to take full advantage of the Northeast Lake County Business Opportunity Center, which provides full-service business support and consultation to new and existing companies, regardless of size or industry.
Mount Dora is contributing $12,800 annually to help fund the programs, workshops and seminars that the Business Opportunity Center is providing. As Quinn noted, that will enable the city’s businesses to utilize customized expertise in areas that include business plan writing, financing, marketing, franchising and strategic planning.
Quinn said the city was eager to form this partnership, and help provide support to companies operating in Mount Dora now – or hoping to do so in the near future.
“I think it’s important to utilize the resources of the Small Business Center,” he said. “I think the Small Business Center’s incubator program will help a new business get incubated and started up and on their own and get established. But it helps the new and existing businesses alike.”
As all of Central Florida struggles to pull out of the full grip of the national recession and the downturn in the housing market, Quinn said Mount Dora has probably weathered the storm more successfully than other communities, providing a solid base for future growth. He credits a lot of that to the enduring popularity of the city’s downtown and its appeal to area residents and tourists alike.
“In terms of being a quality community, one people know about and that has a good reputation, the property values have not come down as much as in other places,” he said. “Our property assessed valuations decreased by one of the smallest percentages in the past year, compared to other communities in northern Lake County, only about 3 percent. We’ve dropped like other cities every year, but not quite as badly as other cities, and that’s good for us.”
Employing the services of a Mount Dora business incubator, he said, is a smart way to build on the city’s assets, Quinn added.
“There are people at the Small Business Center that have knowledge of financing and accounting and things like that,” he said. “Small businesses need that.”
The Northeast Lake County Business Opportunity Center will be in Eustis, available to serve companies in that city and Mount Dora, Tavares and Umatilla.
There will also be outreach services available for Mount Dora businesses by the Business Opportunities Center’s certified business analysts.
The Center has two basic programs, the Business Incubator Program developed by Lake Sumter State College and the Small Business Development Center managed by the University of Central Florida.
The Mount Dora city government is trying to do its part, Quinn said, by maintaining quality services at a time of lower property tax revenues, he added.
“I think for us, what we tried to concentrate on is to do what cities are supposed to do,” he said. “We’re supposed to maintain our infrastructure and the quality of our neighborhoods, and we still support our special events. We try to concentrate on maintaining quality programs and services even with many of them being cut back. My philosophy is I’d rather cut back on a program than run one that wastes money. We’ve kept up our infrastructure and tried to be cost-conscious in terms of our programs. The budget is tight, but it isn’t as tight as it has been. I think things are starting to improve.”
The city also has plans in the works for major infrastructure projects and improvements in 2013, Quinn said.
“We’re just putting together our work plan now, but we’re proceeding ahead with some new projects, like the East side water plant,” he said. “We’ve sunk the wells already, and we’ve got to build the plant facility, which will probably be built next year. In terms of future growth for Mount Dora for water capacity, we’re getting that in place now.”
The city government also has 900 acres set aside and designated for an employment center on State Road 46.
“We’d like to develop a business-type approach, and the capacity for that will be there,” he said. “We’re trying to do all these things to make sure we stay ahead of the curve.”
The Small Business Center will be operating as a one-stop-shop for businesses to tap into the resources needed to grow and thrive, noted Robert Chandler, Lake County’s economic development and tourism coordinator.
“In the past, if you asked a business where they go to get help, there would not have been an answer, Chandler said. “Now we hope that the Business Opportunity Center can be that answer.”

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