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Marion businesses need some 'venture localists'

Special to the Star-Banner

Ocala, FL - November 2, 2012
Published on Friday, November 2, 2012 at 6:30 a.m in the Ocala Star-Banner

Regardless of which side of the Munroe Regional Medical Center bond issue you are on, one thing has become very obvious; there is a lot of money in Marion County that is willing to support an issue.

For instance, the PAC that is promoting the hospital tax raised around $190,000 that was spent with printers, robocall people and advertisers, most of which are outside of Marion County. I am guessing the PAC that is against the tax has like assets and will spend them in a like manner.

So did Marion County's economy reap any benefit from this local battle? Not really.

This is the real tragedy of local politics: the money really does not stay here in Marion County. We enrich some Tallahassee firms, with all the money raised generally going out of town. Even when a candidate makes an effort to spend his or her money here in Marion County, the recommendation is not to because you may be tipping your campaign's hand to an opponent.

During the campaign, two main topics were jobs and economic development, and there are two types of business development — one we “steal” a business from another area or we grow a local business. Marion County historically has not been very successful in closing the deal on “stealing” business, so the EDC and Chamber of Commerce have been reorganized, and we have created an incubator and are preparing business parks in the hope that we can change this.

But we have manufacturers here in Marion County that are struggling to reach the next step, machine shops with products and no ability to market them, fabricators so busy surviving on thin margins that they have no ability to market ideas their owners have, micro-market electronics companies without the assets to leverage themselves to the next level and an owner that may not have many social contacts. So how can we help grow our own?

Note the businesses I mention are manufacturers. The manufacturing sector has always led our economy out of recession. We cry about those jobs that go offshore to China. But what are they? They are manufacturing. Not because American labor is less efficient than China, but because of other influences — federal regulations, inability to raise money, and a lack of employable people.

I see Marion County missing a real opportunity for a local initiative to provide funding to local businesses that are growing. Yes, I know this is one of the things the incubator is supposed to do. But the incubator is managed by an administrator and a board, not an individual that has money and is willing and able to do a deal with a business.

Our local government people and a few prominent business retirees pushed our incubator, but those people are not willing to risk their own money, just taxpayers' money. This should say volumes about their belief in the incubator.

My experience has been, though a venture partner brings money, this is not the most valuable asset they provide. For a small businessperson to have the opportunity to enter into a mentorship with the quality of business people that we have in Marion County would be very valuable, as long as the primary goal of the mentor is not self-protection. The relationship should provide support for the areas of weakness in the entrepreneur, such as marketing or sales skills for a machine shop.

Fundamentally, this should be relegated to private business only; our government must not be involved. Only individuals with their own assets understand the risks and can make the decisions that are needed.

It is unfortunate that Marion County can afford to give hundreds of thousands of dollars to political people and issues, but very little money to grow our local businesses.

Investing in local small business is a model that has worked with great success for folks like Warren Buffett and is the topic of a recent article in Forbes magazine written by Joshua Rogers; many of Buffett's success stories are small businesses. Keep in mind, even the mightiest modern business started as a local small business.

With the election season ending, might those who have so generously donated to issues and politicians now look to helping grow our local businesses as a “venture localist”?

Butch Verrando is a semi-retired former manufacturing company owner who is active in the Marion County Tea Party Solutions. He lives near Dunnellon.

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