CEP foundation and county to partner on shores business incubator program

Kevin Sheilley, the President/CEO of the Ocala Metro Chamber and Economic Partnership, speaks to Florida legislators during the Marion County Delegation at the Klein Conference Center at the College of Central Florida in Ocala, Fla. on Thursday, Oct. 7, 2021. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette] 2021.

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Posted December 22, 2021 | By Matthew Cretul

Kevin Sheilley, the President/CEO of the Ocala Metro Chamber and Economic Partnership, speaks to Florida legislators during the Marion County Delegation at the Klein Conference Center at the College of Central Florida in Ocala on Oct. 7, 2021. [Bruce Ackerman/Ocala Gazette]

The Marion County Board of County Commissioners (MCBOCC) unanimously approved a proposal at their Dec. 21 regular meeting to partner with The Foundation for Chamber Economic Partnership, Inc. (Foundation) to create a business incubator program in Silver Springs Shores.

The planned site of the program is a unit in the Crystal Square Shopping Center, which is located at 6829 SE Maricamp Road. According to the Marion County Property Appraiser’s Office, Crystal Square Shopping Center is owned by Discount Mini Storage Of Ocala LLC, which has a listed address in Boca Raton.

The Foundation For Chamber Economic Partnership is a 501(c)3 not-for-profit organization run by the Ocala Metro Chamber and Economic Partnership (CEP), and according to its website “supports programs and initiatives in the Ocala Metro which advance Entrepreneurship, Talent Development, and Leadership.”

Kevin Sheilley, President and CEO of the CEP detailed the decision to utilize the foundation for the project rather than let the CEP take the lead.

“We were able to structure a more favorable deal with the landlord working through the foundation because it is a 501(c)3. And because we’re hopeful that we’ll be able to, that we can attract more corporate grant funding. And so having it all through the foundation just made it a little more consistent,” he said.

While the proposed lease is not among the documents that have been made public, Sheilley indicated he was able to secure a 25% savings by pre-paying 5 years rent in advance.

Although initially asking for $240,000 to be put toward prepaying the lease and $400,000 to fund the remaining build-out of the 3,800 square foot space, Sheilley noted that a recent change in available space altered the original plans.

“We’ve had a long LOI (letter of intent) with the landlord trying to get this through. And unfortunately, the amount of time that we’ve had this, it’s taken so long they’ve leased a portion of the space to someone else. But it’s still within our original space, it remains within our original parameters, and so we’re still able to make it work,” he said.

As a result of the decrease from 3,800 to 2,400 square feet, County Administrator Mounir Bouyounes noted during the meeting that the amounts needed to fund the program decreased as well. Rather than $240,000 for the lease, Bouyounes stated the new need was $138,000, and instead of $400,000, the CEP was now requesting $240,000 for the build-out.

Commission Chair Carl Zalak III supported the project, and remarked that he would like to look for a longer-term setup should the program show signs of success.

“I think this is a great process in regards to start-ups if you will. But if we get to year three and we have a successful incubator, I want to see us planning in year five for a more permanent solution,” Zalak said.

On Dec. 3, Sheilley sent a letter to County Administrator Mounir Bouyounes stating a desire for the Foundation to begin the program, which would create space for up to ten individuals to set up and grow their retail and service businesses. The proposed site is located at 6841 SE Maricamp Road, and would also house training and office space for support personnel.

Initially, the Foundation considered a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) to fund the program, however, after a deal with the building owner to pre-pay five years’ worth of rent was negotiated, they then became aware that the project would not meet CDBG funding guidelines.

In coming up with the idea for the program, Sheilley said they began to notice that while the outlook for the county as a whole was positive, looking deeper showed a disparity in exactly where the outlooks were mostly positive.

“Several years ago now, we started looking at the data and realized that as much as this area has experienced growth, and success, and significant wage growth, and all those good things, it wasn’t even in that there were areas of our community that have lagged behind [in those areas].”

Sheilley also pointed out the location selected for the incubator is one way to help businesses in those areas of the county that have “lagged behind” to succeed, which in turn, will help the county as a whole.

“For anyone who’s spent much time looking at data, no big surprise, those three communities that have lagged the most are really our three majority-minority communities, West Ocala, Silver Springs Shores, and Marion Oaks. And so as an entity whose mission is to be the catalyst for a prosperous community, and that means everyone who lives here,” he said.

The CEP will be working with Marion County Community Services on the Foundation’s project, something that Sheilley said has happened more frequently with COVID-related government funding coming into the county, and is going well so far.

“This is a newer area for us to be partnering with Community Services. Because of the CARES Act and some of the things that we did with the county when there was a lot more that we begin working together. You know, this is a new area for them. And so we both have had to kind of learn as we go, but it’s been really, really good. We’re very excited to be able to expand into the Shores.”

Sheilley expects the incubator will be operational by mid-2022.

According to its website, both Bouyounes and Marion County Clerk of the Courts Greg Harrell are appointed directors of the CEP.

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