GREEN COVE SPRINGS – County officials received a funding request from the Clay Chamber of Commerce to cover the Small Business Development Center’s costs.
The SBDC has been in Clay County for more than 43 years. It offers training, information and assistance to small businesses and a full-time consultant.
The Chamber provides an office and classroom space for the consultant. Chamber officials requested the county handle the $33,000 local match the SBDC requires. The cost for the consultant is $110,000, though federal and state funds cover the rest.
SBDC Regional Director Janice Donaldson said small businesses have a failure rate of 50% in the first four years. The SBDC stressed factors such as sustainability, marketing and accounting to business owners.
“We’re all about jobs, that’s why we were created,” Donaldson said. “Small businesses are the engines of job creation in our economy.”
Chamber member and Thrasher-Horne Conference Center Director Bob Olson said $7.1 million in new sales were generated, $27.1 million in financing was obtained, 251 jobs were created and retained, and 15 new businesses started since October 2015, when the SBDC’s consultant became full-time.
“What we have now is a proven success,” Olson said. “Now I think we need to work towards making this a more permanent structure in our county.”
Commissioner Wayne Bolla asked why an economic development agency with county funding like the Chamber or the Clay Economic Development Corporation wouldn’t fund the SBDC. Then that entity would report to the county, Bolla said.
“It’s just a matter of where it belongs,” Bolla said.
Olson and Donaldson said the SBDC usually has a direct funding source from a city or county. Chamber of Commerce President Chip Dobson said some of the smaller contributors to the Chamber’s local match hadn’t pledged funds.
The county budgets $150,000 for the Clay EDC, though $50,000 is for membership in the JAXUSA Partnership. Bolla asked if the Clay EDC could spare $33,000. Clay EDC President J.J. Harris said he supported the SBDC’s mission, but money was tight.
“I don’t have the money in my budget for it,” Harris said.
Commissioner Mike Cella said it was easier to boost small businesses rather than to recruit larger corporations.
“A large part of our economic development is growing businesses that are already here and providing opportunities and knowledge to do that,” Cella said.
City Manager Howard Wanamaker was asked to look for options in the budget and report back at a later meeting.
In other business, the county extended its lobbying contract with the Fiorentino Group for seven months. The contract was set to expire Sept. 30, though the first slate of state committees will meet in mid-September.
Commissioner Diane Hutchings, who said she approved of the Fiorentino Group’s performance, alluded to the county’s millions in appropriations received.
“I feel like we have a voice,” Hutchings said.
Cella said even though the county had Rep. Travis Cummings and Sen. Rob Bradley on its side, a lobbyist was needed to sway others in the Legislature. The lobbying firm costs the county $5,000 a month.
“Honestly, (Cummings and Bradley) aren’t the only votes,” Cella said. “They may be influential, but we need somebody talking to the other representatives and senators to make sure they’re on board.”
The new contract was approved with a 4-0 vote.
The state’s Voluntary Home Buyout Program application deadline was extended to Sept. 9 for residents with damaged homes. Clay County Emergency Management’s deadline to submit applications to the state is now Oct. 1.
Shanti Copeland, a consultant with APTIM Environmental & Infrastructure, oversees the program in Clay County. She said the county had received 37 voluntary participation forms, and eight were deemed eligible according to state.
“There’s 27 (forms) we’re working through documentation to support,” Copeland said.
Copeland discussed the program with Middleburg residents last month. The aim of the program is to buy homes on a floodplain at pre-Hurricane Irma prices and transition properties into county-maintained green space.
“There’s a lot of devastation in that area,” Hutchings said. “I’m glad we’re able to help our neighbors.”
Application packages should be emailed to IRMA-Grants@ClayCountyGov.com and for more information about the program call the Clay County Flood Hotline at 904-529-2794.