Trendsetters - Ecenomic Development - Dec. 2004
Lending A Helping Hand
Thirteen years ago, engineer Brindley Pieters wanted to start his own firm. He needed a line of credit, so he turned to Inez Long of the Black Business Investment Fund in Orlando. The BBIF guaranteed 80% of his loan, and he was on his way. Today, Pieters' firm has no trouble getting loans on its own, employs 36 and generates nearly $4 million in annual revenue.
Long didn't envision a career for herself providing that kind of help to her community. She was earning her accounting degree at USF, with an eye toward law school, when her father died. She finished her degree, gave up law school plans to help at home and became a commercial lender with the old First Union and later SunTrust. In 1990, she joined the BBIF, with a handful of employees and $1 million in capital, as vice president. "A number of my peers in banking said, 'You are insane to go work for a little tiny organization like that.' "
She became president in a year and has doubled the organization's capital to $2 million. In her 14 years, the BBIF has made $25 million in loans to contractors, salons, elder-care service companies and other businesses, some of which now rank among the larger black-owned businesses in central Florida.
Long, 48, requires loan recipients to improve "capacity" -- by hiring a part-time CFO, for instance, or by networking and building relationships.
Long is developing a project in Parramore, a low- and moderate-income area of Orlando, that will have business condos, residential apartments, retail space and a business incubator. She sees it as a way to foster growth in the community, make the BBIF as self-sufficient as it's made others and work with new businesses and established ones. "It becomes very energizing for me," she says.
President / Black Business Investment Fund of Central Florida
Family: Husband, Fitzhugh Long; two sons, Jarrod, 22, and Marcus, 19; and a daughter, Nicole, 16.
Residence: Winter Garden. "Less traffic, a little bit quainter and quieter" than Orlando.
Lesson Learned: "Everybody that says he wants to be in business should not in fact be in business," she says.
In the business of luring employers to Florida, and cutting taxes for the ones here, Crystal Sircy is an important person. Sircy, 36, manages the state's incentive programs for recruiting and retaining companies and makes recommendations on policy changes to improve the business climate.
Born in South Carolina while her father served in Vietnam, Sircy spent most of her youth in Madison County in north Florida. A statistician by education at the University of Florida, Sircy thought of becoming an actuary, and indeed obtained an actuarial science certificate before discovering she needed more human contact in her work. She wound up in economic development for the old Department of Commerce, the Tallahassee Chamber and, for the past seven years, Enterprise Florida. "Economic development is a captivating business," she says. "What better place to sell than Florida?"
Day to day, Sircy works with site-selection consultants and companies to put incentive deals together, evaluating job creation and retention against the cost of incentives. Her recommendations for tax cuts that would support innovation: A corporate income tax credit for research and development spending and sales tax exemptions on R&D equipment and production equipment. "If you tax inputs to production, you will not be a production state," she says. "You will be a consumption state."
Vice president, competitive programs and policies / Enterprise Florida
Early Work History: She tutored students while in junior high and high school.
Living in Greenville in Madison County: "I'm fond of saying my blood pressure drops as I get into the rural landscape every afternoon."
Education: Bachelor's, statistics, 1989, University of Florida. MBA, 1999, Florida State University.
Cheers For: "I like to err on the Florida State side of the equation."
Incentives: "While our incentive base is modest compared to competitive states, our general business climate is competitive."
Family: Husband, William; sons, Will, 5, and Grayson, 3.
Director of Small Business Services / Seminole Community College
Past: The Florida native had a Miami Herald paper route at age 11, started a landscaping business at 19 and was president of the state nursery association at 35. A serial entrepreneur, he founded four companies.
Present: The 52-year-old oversees a mixed-use incubator center opened in 1997 and the Seminole Technology Business Incubation Center opened in 2001. After the tech meltdown, it struggled but took off 18 months ago. It's two-thirds full. The mixed-use building is full.
Future: Add offices in Heathrow, Altamonte Springs and Oviedo.
Unusual: The center has a partnership with the UCF incubator and includes a focus on international, such as U.S. startups of established international companies.
Biggest Success: The total outreach effort has created more than 1,100 jobs. One graduate, now with its own building in Sanford, pays "more in taxes each year than we receive in subsidy."
Incubator Network Director, Technological Research and Development Authority
Past: She sold lemonade and baby-sat and then joined Junior Achievement, making and selling jumper cables, utility lights and such. She became JA Chamber of Commerce president. As a grownup, she was CEO of Junior Achievement for East Central Florida, then CEO of the Cocoa Beach Area Chamber. "The impetus behind my whole career is assisting small businesses."
Present: For the past eight months, the 41-year-old has overseen the Florida/NASA business incubation program. It has a center in Titusville and the Carrie P. Meek Center for Business in Homestead.
Future: Another business incubator is scheduled to open in 2006 in Melbourne.
Biggest Success: From 1996 through 2003, the Titusville center created 153 jobs, with $25 million in revenue and $2.4 million in capital raised. Moses Harvin, head of center graduate and aerospace provider American Services Technology in Cocoa, was an Ernst & Young Entrepreneur of the Year in Florida this year and made the Inc. 500.