May 15, 2020
By: Tiffany Razzano
Pasco County businesses are showing how “resilient” they are as the economy reopens, said Bill Cronin, president, and CEO of the Pasco Economic Development Council.
“There is a spirit of perseverance right now and I think everybody is doing everything they can,” he said. “The effort is amazing. Nobody is sitting back and saying, ‘Let’s wait for this to pass.’ Nobody is being passive.”
Pasco EDC is providing these businesses with as many tools for success as possible, Cronin added. The council retooled a microloan program it already had in place to create the Pasco Emergency Business Grant. So far, this grant has pumped around $7 million into the local economy by offering relief funding to small businesses.
The program is intended for businesses owned by Pasco County residents with 25 or fewer employees. Each company is eligible for up to $5,000 and the program was designed to help them tackle immediate needs, such as paying rent or employees, Cronin said.
“We came to the conclusion that we needed to get capital flowing in the local economy. We turned the program around in four days. We’re just lucky we already offered a microloan program and could use that funding mechanism to create the grant program,” he said.
Pasco County commissioners initially approved $2 million from Penny for Pasco funds to launch this emergency grant program at their April 21 meeting.
Before that meeting was over, the EDC received 90 applications, Cronin said. By 4 p.m. the next day, 1,462 businesses had applied for the emergency funding.
The EDC shut down the submission portal at that point, but processed all the applications they received, though they only had enough funding to assist around 400 companies. Cronin requested additional money from Pasco commissioners, who approved another $5 million for the program. This $5 million came from the federal Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act funding awarded to Pasco County. Around 1,400 of the small businesses that applied have qualified for assistance.
Moving forward, the EDC will focus on assisting businesses in the “recovery” phase, Cronin said. “We’re thinking more about how we can help prepare companies to become more resilient.”
To comply with safety recommendations, many businesses will need to reconfigure their physical spaces or purchase protective equipment. Others might decide to “refocus and change their business model. A lot of them are getting creative,” he said. “All of this comes at a time when a lot of these small businesses don’t have any revenue coming in.”
The EDC offers a Pasco Microloan Program to assist some of these businesses. The program provides up to $50,000 to growing businesses that show potential but are ineligible for traditional bank funding because they are so new, Cronin said. “In fact, a requirement is that they’ve been turned down by a bank. This is designed for start-ups or businesses in that second phase of growth.”
In five years, this program has loaned around $1 million to Pasco County businesses, he added. The program has been reconfigured to assist businesses affected by the pandemic, particularly those looking to switch gears and refocus on essential services.
The EDC also offers educational opportunities to small businesses. Its Refocus program, a two-hour web-based workshop presented by Co.Starters, is designed to help “companies to rethink and retool their business model,” Cronin said. Businesses are “grouped with peers from the same industry to share best practices and ideas.”
While the course is required for any business that has benefitted from the Pasco Emergency Business Grant program, it is currently offered at no cost to any Pasco business.
Cronin knows “it’s a tough time” for businesses, but he’s “impressed” by Pasco County’s business community. Many businesses have “changed gears quickly” to keep their doors open, he said.
“Even the ones that have been forced to close, if we’ve seen them bail, they put 110 percent into it first,” he said. “It’s hard, but it’s beautiful to see these companies giving it their all. There’s a special spirit amongst Americans.”
He is also “optimistic” for the future.
“There will be new start-ups and new innovation that rise up out of (this),” Cronin said. “A lot of those impacted by unemployment will be looking for new ideas…In past history, any time we’ve had an economic crisis, we see a lot more start-ups and innovative ideas.”