Neighborhood Services reaches out to SWTIF businesses

Growing businesses in the Southwest County Improvement District, commonly known as the Southwest TIF, is one goal of the Manatee County Neighborhood Services Department for improving the area of the county stretching from Manatee Avenue West to University Parkway. To accomplish that goal, they’re visiting business owners in the district and asking them what kind of growth they want to see.

“We introduce ourselves and the services Manatee County offers in an area identified as the Southwest County Improvement District, and there are many benefits and incentives in place to spur redevelopment,” said Manatee County Community Redevelopment Coordinator Che Barnett. “We are looking to bring about awareness of these services. It’s a fairly new ordinance, and all of what we will do is not defined yet. We’re looking to the businesses to help define that.”

Neighborhood Services Department Staff conducted a small business walk in April and visited 25 businesses along the 14th Street West corridor south of Bowles Creek. This week, between teams led by Manatee County Economic Development Program employees, the department set out on another small business walk and stopped by 50 businesses on Tuesday.

Barnett, Peter Gruits from Manasota SCORE and Dania Martinez from the Latin Chamber visited Franz Tractor Supply to present them with a certificate of appreciation for contributing to the area’s economy for more than 50 years.

Peggy Franz-McLaughlin, who now runs her parents’ company, began working at Franz Tractor when she was in 10th grade. She’s proud of the legacy her parents built and is especially proud of her mom’s role in the business at a time when women were just beginning to enter the workforce.

“She used to say she was women’s lib before women’s lib came about,” Franz-McLaughlin said, laughing. The family business stayed afloat through the recession, but Franz-McLaughlin said it wasn’t easy.

“We had ups and downs through the years, but we were never hit that hard,” she said. “We lost 70 to 75 percent of our business during the recession. I call it our Depression.”

Franz Tractor currently employs 10 full-time employees and hopes to grow the business more. Franz Tractor Supply services the ranching, construction, agriculture and nursery businesses. And through working with those businesses, Franz-McLaughlin said she’s enjoyed watching other second-generation businesswomen and businessmen rise again after struggling through the economic downturn.

Barnett walks the 15th Street corridor every Tuesday and said she has visited 89 businesses so far.

“I started in January or February, and I’ve got about 12 left on the corridor,” she said. Once she finishes that, she plans to branch out to connected side streets.

Along with the certificate of appreciation, Barnett provided Franz-McLaughlin with resources to help Franz Tractor grow, including information about the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, the Manatee County Black Chamber of Commerce, the Gulf Coast Latin Chamber of Commerce, Suncoast Community Capital, the Manatee Community Federal Credit Union and several area educational institutions, including State College of Florida, the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee and Manatee Technical Institute.

Small businesses often struggle with obtaining financing because it’s based on their personal credit, Barnett said.

“We help them improve their personal profile, which helps improve the business profile,” Barnett said. The resources also include avenues for assistance with business planning, employee training and rapid-response permitting. “We provide a scoping meeting and pull together a team to help them with their specific building plan. We help troubleshoot and foresee potential problems.”

Barnett hopes all of her steps along the corridor will add up to an improved area of Manatee County.

“I think we’re in a good position to help the corridor thrive,” she said. “All eyes are on the Southwest TIF.”

Janelle O’Dea: 941-745-7095, @jayohday