By Estella R. Fullmer
For Hometown News
NEW SMYRNA BEACH -- "How do we want to continue to grow in our city and maintain the character of New Smyrna Beach?" asked Mayor Adam Barringer at the NSB Economic Summit Saturday morning.
Nearly a hundred city officials, business owners, representatives from county and state initiatives and concerned citizens gathered at City Hall to begin to answer the question.
One answer the participants came up with was a city liaison for new business owners to walk them through the processes of starting a business step-by-step. Another item was to eliminate roadblocks by the Utilities Commission.
"Maintain the green corridor," urged one concerned citizen. "Whatever you do, please keep the area along State Road 44 a green area. Maintain the charm of New Smyrna Beach."
Gerard J. Pendergast suggested that businesses include "New Smyrna" in their name. "Every time they run an advertisement and say their name, like New Smyrna Chevrolet, it is advertising for the city."
It was suggested the Southeast Volusia Chamber of Commerce also needs to be a source of information for business owners to find employees, learn what commercial properties are for sale and learn about best practices for economic growth. The chamber should also provide information on state, county and local programs, and incentives for small business owners. Other ideas were the city's website needs to be more user friendly and potential business owners need to have easier access to what properties are available.
Most present agreed the new Community Redevelopment Area needs to concentrate not only on attracting new businesses to the area and helping new business owners, but also in nurturing existing businesses to grow. The existing CRA expires in 2015 and the city is already drawing up plans for a new CRA to kick in at that time. "Oct. 1 this year is the sunset," said Tony Otte, director of the city Community Redevelopment Board. "We won't be taking any new applications for funding on the current CRA after Oct 1 this year."
The keynote speaker, Amy Evancho, CEO of Florida Economic Development Council, started off the summit with a presentation on the council and what their more than 4,400 members want. "Our function is to educate, advocate and connect," Ms. Evancho said. "Fifty percent of our members want FEDC to educate business and cities on best practices to promote economic development. They also want us to advocate on a state and federal level for sound economic policies. The other component of the FEDC is connecting cities to learn what other communities around the state are doing and sharing those best practices."
Ms. Evancho pointed out the key to a healthy economic community is "making sure you have an environment where businesses can expand and grow and sell their products."
The environment should create wealth, expand marketing and expand the tax base. An economic strategy should include business, community and talent all working together, according to Ms. Evancho. Working with the county and state and other cities is also key. "You should develop separate but complementary strategies" she said.
The FEDC has 3 goals on their 2013 state legislative agenda: To increase the state's ability to attract new business in order to bring in new jobs, to protect and retain current businesses and give them the ability to grow more jobs and to support Florida's business agencies such as Grow Florida through funding and language changes in an effort to support existing businesses.
Several members in the audience commented on some of the statistics and strategies introduced by Ms. Evancho.
"The city really needs to look realistically at the unemployment rate and what it really is. Accuracy is key, such as asking the question: Why is Volusia County among the lowest income rates and has the highest property taxes?" asked one member of the audience in response to the barrage of statistics provided by Evancho during her presentation.
Ned Harper, director of the Small Business Development Center at Daytona State College, cited credit as being a detriment to new businesses. "There are a huge number of people out there that want to work or open a business but this roadblock of FICA and credit score just holds them back."
Mr. Otte, the CRA director, pointed out blight areas across the city the new CRA needs to target. The three main areas of concern are south of Canal Street, areas along S.R. 44 and areas around the airport along U.S. 1. "NSB has excellent growth potential and offers a large economic base," Mr. Otte said.
"We have several incentives in the current CRA and even a rental assistance program for up to $6,000 for qualified businesses that has been used in the past," suggested Otte in reference to ideas to include in the new CRA. "The city picked up some of the fees for the new hotel in a business agreement. This is a tool we have used including waiving impact fees to stimulate growth."
In closing Mayor Barringer said, "I gathered a lot of great information today. An ombudsman for new businesses -- I hear you loud and clear and that's something we want to try to implement. We can come up with a revised plan and will disseminate the information gathered here today."