Immokalee business center showing success after one year, manager says

Daily News Correspondent

Nearly a year since it opened, the Immokalee Business Development Center has helped six small business owners open their doors to potential success.

"We've seen a lot, done a lot," said Marie Capita, development center manager, of the center's first year. "We graduated two entrepreneurial classes (approximately 143 individuals) and we've helped existing business expand."

The center aims to facilitate the growth and development of businesses in the community. It is a no-cost program subsidized by the Immokalee Community Redevelopment Agency that provides existing and emerging businesses with technical assistance and an array of businesses resources.

Capita said the center has partnered with different banks and entities for workshops, including seminars at Florida Gulf Coast University, and provides everything from training to a six-week entrepreneurial school — all free of charge.

"The workshops are geared toward business aspects that will help (entrepreneurs), such as (a recent) workshop on commercial law concerning landlord and tenant issues," Capita pointed out.

While most business development centers are considered business incubators, the Immokalee Business Development Center strives to be an incubator without walls by providing personalized service both on-site at the business location and off-site at the development center's office.

"Our goal is to be as helpful as possible," said Penny Phillippi, executive director of the Immokalee Community Redevelopment Agency, which launched the development center.

"To be truly helpful we have to take our resources to the new business owners. We have to break down the walls and barriers that tend to confine and restrict entrepreneurial effort and allow new businesses to flourish on their own terms, in organic ways."

Under the support of the Immokalee CRA, the Immokalee development center is able to deliver assistance to entrepreneurs as they learn the "4-year-self-sufficient rule" and be responsive to technical assistance opportunities and continually refine their business plan. Immokalee development center also provides reasonable priced rental space and services to accommodate the needs of a start-up business.

Capita's plans for the development center's future include establishing a commercial kitchen.

"There are several people who would like to do canning," she said. "So my goal for the upcoming year is to obtain a grant because I know it would help not just Immokalee but the neighboring area."

Capita said the most important thing for the Immokalee Business Development Center is to foster job growth in the area because many jobs are seasonal due to the agricultural industry.

"Nonagricultural business development will help create a permanent job base," she explained. "That is the goal of the center."

As a learning laboratory for bright energetic business developers, the center's partnerships will extend beyond the redevelopment agency as it continues to cultivate relationships with universities, technical schools, governmental agencies and other entities for the benefit of its clients, according to Capita, who feels helping others is rewarding.

"I love helping people open businesses they never thought they could and see them doing it is very gratifying," Capita said.

"There is more business development out there and we want people to know we are here to help."

To learn more about what the Immokalee Business Development Center offers, call administrative assistant Rosemary Dillon at 867-4121 between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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