KISSIMMEE – Job growth has been a major challenge for Central Florida’s beleaguered counties, as municipal leaders look for ways to replace the jobs lost when the housing market crashed.
The Osceola County Economic Development Office has been looking for ways to lure in new companies from neighboring states and other countries, and even has a web site — http://www.chooseosceola.com — that sells the county’s benefits, including plenty of available land to build on, a pro-business attitude among county leaders, and a property tax abatement granted to firms that create jobs.
At the same time, Maria Toumazos, the office’s executive director, said she’s also looking to create jobs locally – by helping people who now live in Osceola and want to start their own business.
“Growing our own is very important,” she said. “So is providing opportunities for companies.”
As Toumazos noted, people who have lost their job in the past few years and worked in industries that still haven’t made a comeback, are increasingly looking at the possibility of starting their own business as an alternative to waiting for jobs to return.
To assist them, Osceola County partnered with the University of Central Florida to create an incubator program that helps new companies grow and succeed. The goal of the UCF Business Incubation Program is to facilitate smarter, faster startup and growth of emerging companies. Next month, two Osceola County incubators will host special programs.
The St. Cloud incubator will host an open house on April 27 from 5-6:30 p.m., and a Lunch and Learn program titled “Attracting Business Buyers” on April 21 at 11:30 a.m.
The Kissimmee incubator will host “CEO Rendezvous” on April 6 at 5:30 p.m. and a second program, “How to Start Your Business,” on April 8 at 11:30 a.m.
“We host an outreach program because we’re trying to stimulate job opportunities for contractors in the community,” Toumazos said. “We’re saying, ‘Hey, come and learn,’ and we can provide information and resources to them.”
The web site also links job seekers and entrepreneurs to resources available through Workforce Central Florida, the state’s job referral agency. Workforce has courses available to job seekers aimed at helping them find and land their next job. These “supercharged skills workshops” are offered at no cost, and the next one in Kissimmee – to be held at 1329 E. Vine St. – will be “Career Pursuit: Discover strategies for an effective job search using a variety of traditional and nontraditional methods,” which will be held on April 5 from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.
A second workshop will be held on April 19, at the same location and hours, titled “Planning and Preparing for the Interview.” To register for any of these workshops, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.
U.S. Rep. Bill Posey, R-Florida, is hosting an Entrepreneurs Summit on April 27 at Workforce Central Florida’s Kissimmee Office, and the Osceola County Economic Development is one of the organizers of that event.
Toumazos said her office often gets contacted from people interested in starting a small business, but with no experience doing it, and they’re usually looking for guidance. She’s happy to lead them in the right direction.
“What we find is they’re interested in it, but they don’t know what is the next step,” she said. “Many times these services are free. We’re trying to give them those tools to let them know where to go so they can start those businesses.”
The Economic Development Office also links entrepreneurs to upcoming networking opportunities, and is encouraging businesses to find new customers by logging on to www.flvec.com, the online home for the Florida Virtual Entrepreneur Center, which is a program funded by the Florida High-Tech Corridor. This Web portal is a one-stop shop library of resources for entrepreneurs looking to start or grow a business.
Osceola County is also in a unique position, Toumazos said, because the Orlando-Kissimmee ranks No. 9 in a list of the top 52 metropolitan areas for minority entrepreneurs, according to researchers for Forbes magazine. Toumazos credited that to a boom in the region’s Hispanic population in the past 10 years, as a growing number of Hispanic residents in the Kissimmee area who have started a business here.
“Is that not very exciting?” she asked. “I was so excited when I read that. It shows we have the entrepreneurial spirit here. It’s starting to show that hey, guess what, our businesses are taking shape.”
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