Orange County Chairman Rich Crotty has pledged $1.2 million over five years to operate the center, with Disney kicking in another $1 million over the same period.
Disney's contribution comes with one major condition: Voters must approve the Sept. 10 referendum to add a half-cent to Orange County's sales tax to support education -- which carries an associated half-mil property tax rollback. If the referendum fails and Disney doesn't pitch in, Crotty has promised to "find the money somewhere" to make the center a reality.
The National Entrepreneur Center will follow a blueprint created in Silicon Valley when the SBA and Cisco Systems teamed up with the city of San Jose to create the prototype two years ago.
After Crotty toured the site, he approached Walt Disney World Resort President Al Weiss for corporate support. Since then, the effort has been joined by the Service Corps of Retired Executives, the Central Florida Technology Incubator, the Central Florida Innovation Corp., the Black Business Investment Fund, the Hispanic Business Initiative Fund and the Minority Business Enterprise Alliance. The county Economic Development Commission and local chambers of commerce have also pledged their support.
The center will work much like one of the SBA's Small Business Development Centers, housed locally at the University of Central Florida. However, it will operate on a larger scale and provide a more "seamless" experience for entrepreneurs looking for help, organizers say. Resources will include business plan development, legal advice, and management and accounting services. Some services will cost would-be entrepreneurs, but those fees will likely be on a sliding scale, says George Rodon, Orange County's director of economic trade and tourism development.
Organizers are looking to lease about 12,000 to 16,000 square feet in downtown Orlando that ultimately will house 12 to 15 people. Patrick Tunison, a former banker and SBA representative in Washington, will serve as interim director.
Disney says tying its support to the sales tax referendum isn't intended to save the company money, pointing out that the company will pay more in sales tax than it would save from the property tax relief.
Instead, Weiss says, Disney believes the center will help create more economic diversity in an area that depends heavily on tourist spending.
Diversifying the economy is the ultimate goal, Rodon agrees: "We'd like to focus on the high-tech industry because that's what's going to diversify the economy."
IN THE NEWS
Celebration -- Walt Disney Co. has sold three signature office buildings to Inland Real Estate Acquisitions of Oak Brook, Ill. The three buildings, comprising about 440,000 square feet, house Walt Disney Imagineering and Disney Cruise Lines. Disney holds long-term leases on the buildings.
Daytona Beach -- The city is facing the prospect of having to raise taxes 27% because of an estimated $6-million budget shortfall.
Car-rental company Budget Group (OTC-BDGPA.OB) filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection in late July, listing $4.05 billion in assets and $4.33 billion in liabilities. No layoffs are expected.
Corbin Motors Daytona Beach has purchased 15 acres along I-95 to build its three-wheeled electric car, the Sparrow. The Daytona company hopes to build the cars under license from Hollister, Calif.-based Corbin Motors, which has been building the vehicles for several years. The Daytona company also hopes to manufacture Merlin Roadsters, single-seat cars powered by motorcycle engines, and Merlin Coupes, fuel-efficient mini-cars.
Kissimmee -- The Orlando/Kissimmee Hotel Motel Association filed suit to stop negotiations between Osceola County and Xentury City Development on the county's planned convention center project. A circuit judge ordered talks halted while the association develops its case. The association, which represents small businesses along U.S. Highway 192, contends the Xentury City site is too far away to benefit them and that the county did not follow state and local policies before picking Xentury City over two other developers.
Melbourne -- Harris Corp. (NYSE-HRS) won a 15-year, $1.7-billion contract to rebuild the telecommunications system for the Federal Aviation Administration. The project eventually will replace equipment at more than 5,000 FAA facilities nationwide. The deal is the largest contract in Harris' history and could escalate to as high as $3.5 billion.
Orlando -- Loew's Hotels will soon begin planning two new hotels at Universal Orlando. The company says occupancy of its three hotels at Universal -- including the just-opened Royal Pacific Resort -- justified additional development. The land has already been zoned, but the company offered no timetable on when the hotels would be built.
CHEP International, a global shipping/logistics company, has expanded its 83,000-sq.-ft. headquarters by adding 61,000 square feet, taking over all of the SouthPark building where it has been located since 1999. The company employs 475 locally and 7,500 around the world.
Lightpath Technologies of Albuquerque, N.M., plans to move its headquarters to the Central Florida Research Park, where subsidiary Geltech is based. The company eliminated 66 positions in New Mexico.
The Orlando Culinary Academy opened the doors to its first class, with 72 students paying about $32,000 apiece for a 15-month program. The school has about 400 students signed on for future classes and has hiked tuition to $34,700.
Hard Rock Cafe International has finalized a settlement against four organizations in Jamaica that sold counterfeit Hard Rock Cafe merchandise and operated bogus Hard Rock restaurants. Terms of the settlement were not released. The offending companies have since stopped using Hard Rock trademarks and changed their names.
Mercado Mediterranean Village, an International Drive shopping center, has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection, blaming the tourism decline of the past nine months.
Osceola County -- Avatar Properties announced an eight-year plan to build a 1,313-acre community on East Lake
Tohopekaliga. The 2,000-home enclave will include 15 neighborhoods and more than a mile of shoreline. Prices are expected to be $130,000 to $500,000.
Goodman Co. has acquired Osceola Square Mall and plans to demolish 250,000 square feet of the mall and rebuild it into a more upscale environment. Some existing tenants, including Beall's Department Store and Ross Dress for Less, will remain.
3 ENTREPRENEURS HONORED
CENTRAL FLORIDA -- Three central Florida executives received Florida Entrepreneur of the Year awards from Ernst & Young and will be eligible for national honors in November. The honorees were Benjamin Patz of Coleman Technologies in Orlando, Anjan Ghosal of Intellinet Technologies in Melbourne and Jeno Paulucci of Luigino's in Sanford.