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1PSL system gives residents a new, improved way to connect with Port St. Lucie City Hall

Residents and visitors now have an easy, new way to seamlessly connect with Port St. Lucie’s City Hall – no matter the time or day – via either a mobile app, website portal or telephone call.

Businesses, Community Leaders Ignite Strategic Growth at Small Business Leadership Conference

Orlando, Fla. — More than 300 small business owners, professionals, and community leaders gathered for the ninth annual Small Business Leadership Conference June 26-28. Held in Orlando, the conference featured more than 40 speakers who discussed strategies and best practices for igniting strategic growth.

Choose the right structure when starting your business

Starting and running a business requires making many important decisions. The very first decision faced by many business owners is what kind of entity should be formed to operate their business. In Florida, there are a number of available options. While the decision can be daunting, the variety in flavor of business entities provides the opportunity to choose a type of entity suited to your particular needs. In determining which entity is right for you, there are many tax and non-tax factors to take into consideration.

DESIRABLE UNDEVELOPED TRACT OF LAND COULD DECIDE VERO BEACH FUTURE

While the City of Vero Beach is primarily built out, three highly visible properties are becoming available and the future of Vero Beach itself may depend on how they are developed.

QUICK PATH TO GETTING THOSE SKILLED WORKERS

Employers: Is recruiting a reliable stream of qualified job candidates becoming a challenge? Do you want to plan for the future to create a workforce for the next 20 years and beyond?

IRSC AND PIPER AIRCRAFT PARTNERSHIP TAKES FLIGHT WITH NEW APPRENTICESHIP PROGRAM

Apprenticeship programs help businesses develop highly-skilled employees, which reduces turnover rates, increases productivity and lowers the cost of recruitment. In response to increased demand for high-quality manufacturing employees, and in cooperation with Indian River State College, Piper Aircraft Inc. in Vero Beach has launched an accredited apprenticeship program.

FPL ENHANCES EMISSIONS-FREE SYSTEMS TO MAKE FLORIDA WORLD LEADER IN SOLAR POWER

Known as the Sunshine State, a moniker that attracts many tourists and helps the state’s economy, Florida is now seeing ever-expanding utilization of this great natural resource. Florida Power & Light Company has been harnessing the sun’s rays to provide electric power for homes and institutions since it built the first solar energy center in DeSoto County, the largest of its kind in the United States, in 2009.

SMALL BUSINESS CONTINUES TO DOMINATE THE JOB MARKET

Whiticar Boat Works in Stuart

Laura White, Andy Cornelius and Jed Wood look over a transom swim door at Whiticar Boat Works in Stuart. GREG GARDNER

Employers look for qualified workers, but communication and team abilities play strong roles

BY BERNIE WOODALL

Jim Dragseth’s uncle, Curt Whiticar, started repairing and refurbishing boats in 1947 in Stuart when he established Whiticar Boat Works. Jim’s father brought his family to Stuart in 1949 and joined his brother in law making the foundation for a company that remains vibrant 70 years later. Jim joined in 1969, sweeping floors, sanding boats and doing whatever needed done. Today, he is president of the company.

Vice President and General Manager Jed Wood

Vice President and General Manager Jed Wood oversees the various renovations and repairs at Whiticar Boat Works. GREG GARDNER

On the day after Labor Day, he led nearly 50 employees at Whiticar boat yards in Stuart and Fort Pierce as they spent long hours returning boats from dry storage after Hurricane Dorian passed by the Treasure Coast.

The Whiticar company has 48 workers, which puts it in the largest segment of small businesses in Florida, where nearly 40 percent of companies have between 20 and 49 employees. He says he faces the same risks and rewards as small businesses around the country. After assuring solid business practices of his own company, success may depend on the overall workings of the economy or the increasing difficulty of finding and keeping qualified help.

There is nothing small about small business on the Treasure Coast and in Florida when it comes to impact on the economy and people’s lives. According to the Florida Small Business Development Center, 99 percent of all businesses in the state employ fewer than 50 people.

Small businesses create three out of four jobs and account for 43.5 percent of the state’s gross domestic product (GDP), according to the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity.

The latest figures, from 2015, show that there were nearly 75,900 small businesses with fewer than 50 employees in the Treasure Coast: about 32,500 in St. Lucie, 21,800 in Martin, 18,600 in Indian River and 3,000 in Okeechobee counties, reports the Florida SBDC network, which has headquarters in Pensacola and regional offices throughout the state, including one at Indian River State College.

Given the bulge in spending and business activity during the winter season, many businesses find it is imperative to make most of their money during that time.

One such business is Fort Pierce KOA, owned by Brian Bacher, who has a small campground north of downtown Fort Pierce and plans to open a much larger one in the fall of 2020 at the corner of Jenkins Road and Edwards Road in Fort Pierce.

While the Treasure Coast was largely spared the wrath of Hurricane Dorian in early September, it killed business in the normally lucrative Labor Day weekend for Fort Pierce KOA, Bacher says. “I had to cancel all the reservations and refund all the money. It hurts.”

Bacher hopes his ability to recover from single events, such as the Labor Day washout, will be alleviated when he opens the larger campground. His first location has 35 sites on 3.5 acres. His second location will have 320 sites on 56 acres.

Small businesses employed 3.4 million people in Florida as of mid-2018, according to the latest figure from the U.S. Small Business Administration Office of Advocacy. No figure for total small business employment was available for the four-county Treasure Coast. If the area has the same proportion of small business employees as the state does, the Treasure Coast would employ about 109,000 people.

Nearly half of the Treasure Coast’s population is in St. Lucie County. Housing is mainly cheaper there, but residents often commute to another county, including Martin and Indian River, for jobs.

Corey Rodgers cuts away some worm rot

Corey Rodgers cuts away some worm rot on the spray rail of a Rybovich sportfishing boat. GREG GARDNER

SEASONAL FACTORS

There are about 681,000 people in the Treasure Coast, including 321,100 in St. Lucie; 160,900 in Martin; 157,400 in Indian River; and 41,500 in Okeechobee, as of mid-2018, the U.S. Census Bureau estimates.

George Simons, president of Carter Associates in Vero Beach

George Simons, president of Carter Associates in Vero Beach.

One of the oldest continuously running small businesses on the Treasure Coast is Carter Associates, Inc. in Vero Beach, which was established in 1911 and was family-run until four partners bought the firm 11 years ago, says George Simons, current president and one of those four partners.

Unlike other businesses, Carter Associates, an engineering firm, is not greatly affected by seasonal factors, he says. Carter now has 22 employees, a figure that flexed up to 40 during the home building fury in 2005-2006.

Simons says Carter often has competition from national engineering firms vying for jobs on the Treasure Coast. Carter’s engineers often win those battles on the strength of local knowledge, he notes.

“We’re looking for additional employees at this point,” says Simons, who agrees with other small business owners that attaining good employees is at times a struggle.

Jerry Parrish, chief economist and director of research for the Florida Chamber Foundation, says after financial security, the biggest factor facing small business owners is finding enough qualified applicants for open positions, and keeping them. He cited a quarterly survey of business owners by the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Small Business Council.

“In this time of low unemployment rates, most people that look can find a job,” says Parrish. Employers say their workers are often hired away, which means they must find and train others, he says.

Bacher has only four workers now but plans to hire about 20 workers for the larger second campground. He had experience with a larger staff when he operated a campground in Carlsbad, New Mexico. Managing 20 workers some days took up nearly all his time and created lots of drama.

A Carter Associates survey crew

A Carter Associates survey crew poses in front of pickup truck during a break in their fieldwork. CARTER ASSOCIATES PHOTOS

This is how Carter Associates workers got around in the early days

This is how Carter Associates workers got around in the early days of the company.

“The biggest challenge is finding people that can find solutions to the problems that arise,” says Bacher. In his business, workers must please customers who can be demanding. “It’s important not to get the customer upset. These days, if you don’t respond well to every issue, a customer can go to social media and leave a bad rating for you, and that hurts us.”

Whiticar Boat Works’ Dragseth agreed that finding good workers is a huge challenge.

“It is getting much more difficult to find good labor,” Dragseth says. “We find ourselves hiring people who are compatible with our existing workforce, and we do as much training as we can in-house.”

He also says that many employees who learn the trade of fixing and refurbishing boats take that training and start their own small business, which goes into direct competition with his. That happens most when the economy is strong, he says.

“I’d rather employ people that other people want rather than employ people that nobody wants,” Dragseth says.

Of the 3.4 million people employed by small businesses in Florida, 38 percent of them work for companies that have between 20 and 49 employees, Parrish says, citing U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics information.

PEOPLE SKILLS
While companies want employees with experience in the types of jobs they are seeking, the top desire among employers is workers who are simply able to get along with co-workers, solve problems that arise and work on a team, Parrish says. That means workers who are good at communicating and have “soft skills” that may not be on a job description, he explains.

“We need the soft skills,” says Dragseth, “whether it’s civility, communication or having the basic concept of being able to hold a job. You arrive on time. Nothing’s owed to you.”

Parrish says, “Smart businesses are hiring people with hospitality skills.” Employers can teach technical skills if the applicant has the highly desired communications skills. “Manufacturers and other types of small businesses are hiring people from the hospitality industry” because former restaurant and hotel employees have been taught the ability to work with others and the public.

The huge concern among small business owners in Florida is another recession. According to the Florida Chamber of Commerce’s Florida Scoreboard, 34.2 percent of state business owners surveyed expect a recession as of August 2019, up from only 11.2 percent in mid-2018.
Simons of Carter Associates says his small business has weathered recessions, and a Great Depression, in the past and expects to be standing if another one occurs.

Simons is not one who expects a recession, saying that there is a lot of confidence in a strong economy now.

“We are more diversified now,” than in past recessions, says Simons, indicating that Carter works on an array of public and private projects in the four-county Treasure Coast, plus in Brevard County.

Another measure of the chance of recession is the U.S. manufacturing index by the Institute for Supply Management. In early September that index dropped to its lowest rate since January 2016, to below 50, which suggests a loss in manufacturing output.

Running a small business has many risks, and the failure rate of these businesses is high. Failure rates for Treasure Coast small businesses were not available. For the United States, 20 percent of small businesses fail in their first year of operation, 30 percent by their second year, and half have failed within five years. Only 30 percent of small businesses are still in existence after 10 years, according to Fundera, a service that connects small business owners with lenders.

“There are 285,100 jobs in Florida looking for people, and 344,000 people in Florida looking for jobs,” Parrish says, citing July 2019 figures, according to the Chamber’s Florida Scoreboard. The jobs available figure rose 11.5 percent from two years earlier, and the number of unemployed fell 16.5 percent.

Statewide, the unemployment rate is 3.3 percent, and locally, 4.3 percent in St. Lucie; 3.5 percent in Martin; 4.2 percent in Indian River; and 4.1 percent in Okeechobee, according to the Florida Scoreboard. The highest unemployment rates are in Hendry County at 8.2 percent and Hardee County at 6.7 percent. The lowest rate was in Monroe County, at 2.3 percent.

July’s 3.3 percent statewide unemployment rate compares with 3.5 percent in July 2018 and 4.1 percent in July 2017. The state’s highest unemployment rate since the recession of 2008-2009 was 11.3 percent in February 2010.

Treasure Coast Business is a news service and magazine published in print, via e-newsletter and online at tcbusiness.com by Indian River Magazine Inc. For more information or to report news email staff@tcbusiness.com

MADE ON THE TREASURE COAST

At least three U.S. presidents have used them. Perhaps hundreds of thousands of visitors have ridden on them at Disney and other theme parks. They are safety devices used on thousands of fuel and chemical tankers across the country. Boaters all over the world use products designed and built in Stuart.

Aphrodite Style features wide selection of women’s clothing

Aphrodite Style, 41A SW Osceola Street in Stuart, has been clothing women for over 11 years with fashionable clothes, in a wide variety of patterns and colors. Enjoy pairing them up with shoes, purses, hats and jewelry from their outstanding collections. If you enjoy special design labels, Aphrodite Style offers Komarov, Inizio, Zannza Couture, Mezon, Luna Luz, Dressori, Bel Kazan, Atelier 5, Yon Design, Simply Silk, Tempo Paris, Seduzione, Scandal and many others.
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