Orlando City Hall reaches out to small business owners and entrepreneurs.

In an effort to fill up vacation office space in downtown, Orlando's Economic Development Department held an open house for small business owners today. (Photo by Michael Freeman).

ORLANDO – In an era of high unemployment, when large firms have been slow to rehire laid off workers, Orlando Mayor Buddy Dyer reached out to small business owners today, with an informational open house in the City Hall Rotunda for anyone ready to take the leap and become their own boss.
Several tables were set up inside the Rotunda, with staff from the city’s Economic Development Department on hand to meet with people interested in becoming entrepreneurs.
“Small businesses are the backbone of both our city and national economy,” Dyer wrote in a letter presented to the business owners. “Often times, small business owners take great risks to pursue the American dream. Those individual efforts to use a business as a way to achieve a greater quality of life for themselves and their families, in turn, helps create a better, brighter future for us all in the city of Orlando. This is why the success of small businesses is so important.”
Kelly Roberts, project manager for the Downtown Development Board/Community Redevelopment Agency, said her office has two financial packages available to small businesses, one targeting those who open a retail shop, and the other targeted toward women and minority-owned businesses.
The Retail Stimulus Program offers financial assistance aimed at attracting new retail uses to the downtown neighborhood. Eligible retail uses include apparel, shoes, cosmetics or body care, book stores, arcades, home accessories, music and video stores, gift or card shops, sporting goods stores, drug stores, cell phone retailers, and general merchandise.
The stimulus money can be used for capital improvements, but not for equipment or inventory. Those improvements could include electrical repairs, air conditioning upgrades, plumbing, dry wall, flooring and lighting improvements.
The Minority/Women Entrepreneur Business Assistance program is a financial assistance plan established to keep existing minority-owned businesses within the downtown Parramore neighborhood. It provides financial incentives for business retention or relocation expenses, start-up expenses, the purchasing of capital equipment, capital improvements, and the marketing of the company and its services.
“This is a minority program within the Parramore district, and to qualify, they would have to submit a business plan,” Roberts said.
For businesses that don’t fit into the categories of either retail based or minority-owned, Roberts said the city will provide marketing assistance that includes promoting new businesses in the city’s newsletter.
“If you have a special event, we can do a one time push for it in one of our newsletters,” she said. “It’s a good tool for people to be taking advantage of.”
The city also publishes a Small Business Resource Guide that lists a variety of resources available to small business owners, including help from the Disney Entrepreneur Center at 315 E. Robinson St., Suite 100, and the Small Business Development Center in the same location. These agencies offer business seminars, free one-on-one counseling for small business owners, and a variety of other forms of assistance.
“We have an information guide with a section on support services,” Roberts said.
Nancy Ottini, Orlando’s Transportation Impact Fee coordinator, said the city has waived the collection of change-in-use transportation impact fees for small businesses for one year, through April 25, 2012. That reduces the financial burdens on businesses that want to expand or locate within the city limits and encourages the development of vacant space, she said.
The city also has an incubator program called Blueprint, she said.
“Go on our city’s website (http://cityoforlando.net/economic/) and look for Blueprint,” Ottini said. “They’re our city’s incubator for small businesses.”
The incubator program staff will work with new business owners, connecting them with other local businesses operating in the same field, in the hope that those existing firms can provide guidance on how to build up a successful operation.
“They can let you work with other businesses that are related to what you do,” she said. “That’s what we’re doing here. It’s for new small businesses or expanding existing businesses. That Blueprint is an excellent resource to go to.”
The City of Orlando Economic Development Department is at 400 S. Orange Ave. on the sixth floor. To learn more, log on to www.cityoforlando.net/economic.

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