Business owners get plenty of advice at weekend conference

Keith Bowers, Vince Long, Rick Fernandez, Dr. R. B. Holmes, and  Dr. Jim Murdough posed for a picture.

Keith Bowers, Vince Long, Rick Fernandez, Dr. R. B. Holmes, and Dr. Jim Murdough posed for a picture.






By St. Clair Murraine
Outlook writer

One lady came to tout her seasonal fruit business. Another talked about hats that she makes and sells from home.

Both of them with more than 50 others not only wanted to hawk their start-up businesses, but they came ready to hear from a panel of business experts. Bankers were there to give advice on financial management, too.

City of Tallahassee and Leon County officials also had plenty to say about the formation of a new Economic Development Organization, a joint initiative by both governments. The discussion also included plans for the redevelopment of Frenchtown.

A room in the lower level of Bethel Missionary Baptist Church was packed for almost four hours this past Saturday for the Entrepreneurship Conference. It started a day earlier with Rev. R.B. Holmes moderating a salute to business owners who are members of the church.

The setting was just right for Jim Murdaugh, president of Tallahassee Community College (TCC) to tout the school’s Spark program for small business owners.

“It opened my eyes to some other resources that I kind of knew were available but never sought out,” said Anthony Poole, who owns a painting company. “But it really emphasized that you really need to seek out wise counsel.

“The people (who) had been chosen to give information to us are certainly well versed in their areas.”
TCC is positioning itself to be a resource for entrepreneurs, Murdaugh said. In as much, TCC started Spark, a program to develop entrepreneurial ideas.

The program is being looked at by other schools around the country as a model, Murdaugh said, adding that TCC also is considering teaching classes on the use of drones because of a growing demand for drone technology.

“We didn’t even talk about drones a year or two ago,” he said. “It wasn’t even on the radar. We would like to think we are the go-to when it comes to talent and skills.”

One of the lengthiest discussions focused on the redevelopment of Frenchtown and an elaborate plan to create a residential and commercial hub. The planners, led by attorney Harold Knowles, presented a power-point description of a three-building structure that will house multiple businesses, up-scale housing and parking.

The project will be built in an area surrounded by Martin Luther King Blvd., Tennessee, McComb and Virginia streets.

Knowles said there is no start-up date for the project and that won’t come until after a feasibility study being undertaken by the Community Redevelopment Agency is done.

“At some point, this will all coreless into one project,” Knowles said, as he and Donald Gray of the designing firm went through a presentation. “This is what it kind of looks like but there may be a lot of changes once we get information from the feasibility study.”

While the project is the brainchild of Holmes, Knowles said a limited liability company will share ownership tenants.

Leon County Administrator Vince Long said the planned project seems to be an ideal fit with the CRA’s concept for redeveloping Frenchtown.

“In our world, that checks about as many of the redevelopment boxes you can ever want to see,” he said. “We see many and if we got half of what’s in that concept we’ll be doing pretty good.”

A credit union that merges Envision and FSU credit unions will be one of the first signs of big things coming for Frenchtown. It will be located on the corner of MLK and Tenn. Street and is expected to open in about three months.

J. Blake Bradley, CEO of FSU Credit Union, and Darryl Worrel, Envision’s CEO, both said the merger will make the new credit union as strong as any banking institution.

“If we were just going to try to do it on our own we wouldn’t have the resources available that both of us bring,” Blake said. “Everybody bringing in together affords us a better opportunity.”

Long and City Manager Rick Fernandez used the conference to inform the crowd of plans to present the Blueprint Intergovernmental Agency, the area’s next economic development organization. The plan is to have one economic development arm that’s made up of city and county governments.

The plan was officially presented Monday, but ahead of the meeting they were faced with the question of minority inclusion, especially when it comes to small businesses.

“I think the real goal, in the long term, is to have minority-owned firms; women-owned firms move on,” Fernandez said. “Stop being a sub and become a prime (contractor). Those are the type of changes I’m talking about. I don’t know how we do it; we have to do it together but there is no reason that a person should be a sub for a long period of time.”