With hopes of accelerating an economic recovery and bolstering the local tax base, Volusia County is ready to experiment with a different way of creating employment opportunities.

On May 6, the Volusia County Council approved a proposal to establish a business incubator that would nurture newborn ideas to grow into profitable companies with large payrolls. The incubator will also lure and cultivate high technology, Daytona Beach International Airport Director Rick Karl said.

“We spend a lot of effort trying to get manufacturing companies. Why don’t we spend time trying to get software companies?” Karl asked.

The new venture will be known as Startup Volusia.

The proposal envisioned by Karl and the County Council involves setting aside space inside the Daytona Beach International Airport terminal for small and promising companies that meet the standards for locating in the rent-free facilities.

The county will spend as much as $1.2 million of its economic-development funds to refurbish approximately 11,000 square feet of the terminal as the flagship site. Karl would not rule out having the space ready for occupancy by the end of the year.

The business incubator could spread out, according to Karl, and add satellite or branch facilities.

“It’s not a place; it’s a program,” he said. There may one day be affiliated operations in DeLand, Deltona, Ormond Beach or New Smyrna Beach.

The county will contract with the University of Central Florida to operate the business incubator. In exchange for UCF’s services in managing the incubator and helping its clients, the county will pay the school $250,000 to $300,000 per year.

UCF has managed business incubators elsewhere, and Karl rates the university’s expertise quite highly.

“UCF has one of the top business-incubator programs in the country,” he said.

Part of UCF’s management of Startup Volusia will be screening applications, “not just giving somebody free office space in a corner to do something,” Karl said.

As well as spurring local business efforts, the incubator may lure out-of-state or even foreign businesses to start small in Volusia County and grow.

“It’s a phenomenal opportunity for us to do something,” Karl said. “You’re creating jobs that are above-average.”

UCF will not be the only institution of higher learning involved. Other big-name schools — Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University, Bethune-Cookman University, Daytona State College, and Stetson University, as well as UCF — will have a role, helping to train the next generation of high-tech and high-skilled workers.

“The idea is to start small,” Karl said. “We would hope those people who are entrepreneurial would join the effort. There’s nothing like having your own business.”

The universities and colleges could also take advantage of the opportunity to develop and test a product or a service in the incubator.

“If Stetson has an idea that they want to promote, if it’s something that can help the community create jobs, they can develop a business plan and apply,” Karl said.

The county will request additional aid from Washington.

“Phil Ehlinger and I have also met with Congressman [John] Mica and Congresswoman [Suzanne] Kosmas. We’re pursuing federal economic-development money,” Karl added. “When you consider the layoffs at the Cape, we may have a good opportunity.”

Ehlinger is the director of the county’s Department of Economic Development.

County Chair Frank Bruno is optimistic about Startup Volusia, as a step toward broadening the county’s tax base.

“That’s really what we need more of. We need more of the commercial development to offset the residential because our residents are paying more in taxes than people in Orange and other counties, where there is more commercial and industrial,” Bruno said.

“I really do think we’re poised for growth,” Karl noted. “I don’t think it’s going to be exponential in the beginning … but I think we can get on the map.”

Source: West Volusia Beacon, Volusia County Council approves proposal to establish business incubator, by Al Everson, BEACON STAFF WRITER,  posted May 17, 2010 – 8:34:48am— [email protected]