St. Cloud, county sink nearly $2 million into start-up project
Aug 14, 2009 at 10:04 AM
By Jessica Solis
Businesses needing an extra hand to get started locally will now be able to seek assistance from experts on how to succeed, thanks to a new facility set to open in St. Cloud next year.
News-Gazette Photo/Andrew Sullivan
Breaking ground for St. Cloud’s Research and Technology Center Incubator are, from left, Chad Pert of Snow Construction, Ernie Gearhart from the city of St. Cloud Economic Development department, Byron Knibbs from the Orlando Utilities Commission, Professor Tom O'Neal from the University of Central Florida, Nick Gross of Snow Construction, County Commissioners Michael Harford and Fred Hawkins Jr., St. Cloud City Council members Tom Griffin, Mickey Hopper, Jay Polachek and Donna Hart, and Osceola County economic development director Maria Grulich.
Although the St. Cloud Research and Technology Center Incubator broke ground only Thursday afternoon, it is already open for prospective businesses to apply and possibly become part of the incubator program meant to aid in the development of new business ventures by providing business assistance to entrepreneurs hoping to open in St. Cloud.
A partnership project between University of Central Florida and St. Cloud, the incubator will provide low-cost commercial space, shared services and business mentoring to between 20 and 30 companies.
Selected companies will receive help with networking, financial management and access to bank loans and guarantee programs, as well as management of their intellectual property and technology. Entrepreneurs are usually accepted into the incubation program through an application process. The 14,200-square-foot incubator will be run by UCF and headquartered at the Corporate Campus in Stevens Plantation.
“Our goal in developing the UCF-St. Cloud-Osceola County business incubator is to empower new business and industry in the local area, and to generate new jobs,” program director Tom O’Neal said in a statement.
The facility is being funded by the city, which pledged $1.3 million to the project, and Osceola County, which will fund an additional $675,000 throughout a five-year period.
The county's participation in the project will allow the incubator facility to expand, city officials said. Originally meant to be between 8,000 to 10,000 square feet, the plans for the facility were recently expanded to 14,200 square feet.
The project is a major boon to St. Cloud, Mayor Donna Hart said, that could help stimulate and bring business to the city once the economic downturn slows down. Basing the incubator in Stevens Plantation, which currently has a handful of operating businesses, will also give the area a boost, she said.
“This is a win-win,” Hart said.
According to statistics from the National Business Incubation Association, incubators pay off for their host cities. About 87 percent of companies that graduate from an incubator program remain in business five years after graduating, and 84 percent of those companies stay in the community.
With a recession in place that has slowed down the pace of the county’s two most lucrative industries – tourism and construction – officials are hoping the businesses to emerge from the program will bring high wage jobs to the county.
“The incubator shows that the county is willing to put skin in the game and focus on growing our own companies,” Commissioner Fred Hawkins Jr. said.
Association data also showed every 50 jobs created by an incubator client generates another 25 jobs into the community.
In 2004, the association named UCF's incubator the year's top program. According to UCF, since starting in 1999, the program has helped more than 100 companies create more than 900 new jobs with a $59,000 average annual salary, 96 percent higher than the current median of $30,000.
Chad Pert, with local developers Snow Construction, said the facility would be completed by May 2010. So far, three businesses have applied for the incubator program. Businesses can apply at www.incubator.ucf.edu.
Contact Staff Writer Jessica Solis at