BRADENTON -- The approval from a VIP guest Tuesday went a long way toward upping the profile of a relatively new business and innovation center near downtown Bradenton.
Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, became the first elected federal or state representative to drop by the Station 2 Innovation Center since it opened about six months ago. The center, which operates out of the historic former Village of Manatee Town Hall building at 912 Seventh Ave. E., offers co-working office space for members, assistance for new business moving into the area and will soon start a business incubator course.
Buchanan got a tour of the building's work spaces, which run the gamut from a high-ceilinged meeting hall to desks and corners with comfy couches. All of it, say center directors Sara Hand and Stan Schultes, is designed to accommodate fledgling businesses.
Buchanan, a vocal supporter of small business, said he believes supporting new business owners is critical to the growth of the nation's economy.
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"There's nothing more important than small business entrepreneurships and jobs," Buchanan said. "I think we can do more of that here."
The congressman's stamp of approval and his visit were important to Hand and Schultes. They are gearing up to host the Florida Business Incubator Association's fall conference
at Station 2 in early October and will simultaneously kick off the incubator program.
"This is that extra stamp," Hand said.
Since opening, the center has hosted hundreds of people who have either used office space there or attended a community event. The center sells co-working memberships, but also holds an open co-working day every Tuesday. It holds educational events on Tuesday evenings.
Buchanan also held a short question-and-answer session with center users and other event attendees. During the wide-ranging discussion, he touched on solar energy, national security, congressional redistricting and foreign investment in Florida business. Guy Breading, a local business broker, asked Buchanan if he might take steps to bolster the federal E2 visa program that allows foreign nationals to work in the United Stastes at businesses they own here.
Buchanan said supporting those visas is important locally.
"I do agree that a lot of investors in Europe are looking at the Manatee-Sarasota area," he said.
The Innovation Center leases the former town hall building from the city of Bradenton. During his tour, Buchanan got a taste of the building's history when he walked through the old jail that is still attached to it.
He was also treated to the renovations that the center has made since opening with what Hand said were "a few tables and some broken chairs." The center is now fully furnished and can accommodate dozens of co-workers at any one time.
Matt M. Johnson, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7027 or on Twitter @MattAtBradenton.