In this episode, the guest is Kurt Forster from Pinellas County Economic Development (PCED), an organization that works with businesses to promote expansion and attract new companies to the community.
Kurt talks about the various investment tools, professional consulting services, business classes, trade missions, and strategic partnerships that PCED provides to foster a pro-business environment and promote the ideal business climate in Pinellas County, Florida.
Listeners will gain insights into the strategies and resources that PCED employs to create high-wage career opportunities for the community, as well as the challenges and opportunities that businesses face in Pinellas County.
Today we are sitting down with Kurt Foster, who is with the Pinellas County Economic Development. Correct. And we’ll get into all that, and the different arms and stuff that that you kind of work with. But thanks for being here.
Listen to the podcast episode here!
So I’m excited to kind of just chat with you and kind of pick your brain some more and kind of learn more about what you do so. So why don’t we start there and just kind of talk about, like, what your role is here in Pinellas County?
Sure. So, you know, at Pinellas County Economic Development, we found that one of the best ways we can assist businesses is by being the SBDC arm for Pinellas County and SBDC is a federally funded program called Small Business Development Centers, it’s pretty well known we get a lot of traffic just based on that name alone, if you will. But that program has, as I mentioned, federal funds state funds, and then the county adds to it. And we’re able to assist nearly 1000 businesses a year here in Pinellas through that SBDC program,
1000 businesses, That’s a lot of families and stuff that you’re kind of helping out grow and kind of start their business, that sort of stuff. So that’s, that’s pretty amazing.
Yeah, I mean, you have a good insight into that, that when you’re helping a business, you’re helping a person who, you know, has a family and for that matter, they may be responsible for the income of six or 10 more other families, right. And business owners really feel that strongly that you know, those families they’re responsible for.
Yeah, I think that’s what’s pretty cool about the small business community is just like it’s like the passion they have, right, like, beyond just the business, right? It’s, it’s what they’re doing to help the community and help their families and stuff.
It absolutely is, makes you a great citizen, if you will, just owning a business, for sure.
So how did you Let’s go back to the beginning. And how did you get into this career in this job?
Well, originally I was working with I was interested in being a college professor, and in my master’s program, I, interacted a lot with the other professors and, and ended up starting a consulting firm with a Professor friend of mine and, and that group pretty well, and, and we worked for a lot of economic development projects. So as that went on, eventually kind of got interested in what they were doing on the other side of the table with economic development. And I decided to join economic development, the best thing that I could offer was consulting, because I was already familiar with that. Sure. So while I got a lot of training, I get at least two weeks of training a year. You know, I was able to grow in areas that were beyond my background, but my background is in marketing and market research. And then, I’ve learned business planning and borrowing money and financial management and some other areas that people need help with.
One thing I always find interesting about like, Consultants is like, you know, we’re, you’ve kind of owned your own business before, right, like, consulting. Do you ever think about, getting back into owning another business? Because you have so much knowledge about the processes and everything,
You know, part of the excitement of owning your own business is getting into new things every day, and all that and I get that in what I do. I mean, so it’s clearly kind of weird that I work for the government. But I get the excitement of what’s going on with all of these other small businesses. Yeah. So I’m unlikely to go back to owning my own business and putting my own life on the line in that way. But you know, I’m pretty sympathetic to it and I understand what they’re going through. In terms of you know, every time you go to sign a lease, or every time you go to borrow money or whatever, it’s a big decision. It’s what a lot of people depend on.
So what do you enjoy? And we maybe just kind of touched on it, but what do you enjoy most about the consulting business?
Well, I mean, you know, you get to help people, right? Yeah. And, you get to see so many new things and new ideas. And, to be, to be honest, not everybody has a life-changing experience from our program, right? You know, they learned the one piece of information they needed, and they go away. But some do, and some just, it’s life-changing, you know, they get that loan, or they, they get a plan together, that changes the trajectory of their restaurant. And all of a sudden, they see it differently in a way that’s going to be able to make the restaurant successful.
In some way, something that’s, that’s all you need, right? You just need the right team around you the right perspective, or whatever it is to kind of, you know, kind of get you over that hump.
Yeah, because we don’t stay on as employees that, you know, SPDC, right? But we’re trying to help them put together a plan, whether that’s a business plan or marketing plan, or, and then be available to people along the way. But you know, they’ve got to implement it, right?
Yeah, for sure. So what is the process? Like, have, you know, if I’m interested in getting consulting services from you guys? Like, how does that work? If you’re a small business owner?
So everything that we do is at no cost. Everything’s been paid for by federal state county funds. So a person who’s interested in meeting with a consultant could start by going to the Pinellas County Economic Development website, said, PC ED dot o RG. And at the website, you’ll see a tab for small businesses. And there’s a couple of pull-down choices, consulting or workshops, and you know, you could if you just want to tiptoe in the water, maybe just take a workshop, yeah, we have these online seminars that last about an hour, they are live. So you have to pre-register. But that’s a nice way to see Oh, what am I what am I getting into here? What are the people like? So some people do that first. But if you’re sure you want to consult, you just sign up for the consulting as a little registration form. And the consultant with experience in that area, or who’s familiar with that area, we’ll contact that person after they’ve signed up. So it comes back to us and we make sure the right consultant is going to contact that person is there.
So is there any sort of application process where you’re kind of vetting some of them out or you just kind of meet with them?
We don’t vet anyone out, although sometimes I give some, somebody, you know, kind of work to do. And they go, Oh, this is where and so they may go away? Just on that basis. But, you know, honestly, you know, we don’t vet anybody out. And we’re just trying to make sure they get the help that they need in the area that they need. And we do really well, you know,
That’s pretty awesome. I mean, I didn’t, I’ve never really known that this was available. I mean, I’ve kind of heard of it, but I didn’t know it was, you know, available, like this. And that, you know, if you need consulting services, that, you know, it’s easily accessible like that.
And, you know, it’s really one of the best kept, maybe secrets or not secrets, but it’s one of the best probe federal and state programs that you’re going to find because the results that we get in terms of growing the economy far outweigh the expense of the dollars put into it. And then by pulling together, that’s federal, state and county funds, you know, you kind of have a lot of sources and everybody, everybody’s got a stake in it, you know, there are certain deliverables that our team has to each of those contributors. But they all get what they want out of the program for their dollars. So it expands the economy grows, and the economy improves the community.
What do you think is like, for the small business community, the small business owner, like what do you think is important to have, like the small businesses in our community? Why is that such a valuable resource?
Oh, well, 98% of all business conducted in the United States is actually considered to be small business. Okay. So it’s most of us. You know, while some you might know, you know, notice the large businesses in your community. The truth is, most of us are a small business. It’s the way that life works. It’s, you know, it helps everybody Yeah. What do you think is considered a small business is it like a certain cap on revenue or it depends? The federal government defines it as less than 500 employees. So that’s a huge, broad definition. Right. But more locally, most of us are thinking in terms of 25 or fewer employees.
That makes sense. Yeah. So let’s talk about some of the businesses that you’ve helped and the kind of things that you’ve picked up on along the way. I mean, you know, working with 500 to 1000 businesses a year, I’m sure you’ve learned a lot and seen a lot. What are some kind of tips for someone who’s going to get started or tips for someone who kind of needs that little push? And he’s that next step?
Well, you know, actually, everyone who signs up with us, it’s a confidential agreement, we’ve agreed we will not share their company information with anyone else. So I’m actually not going to single out any businesses or every once in a while, we do get some consent form signed, and we do some success stories about some of the businesses that we work with. But you know, honestly, I’ve worked with everything from, you know, tattoo parlors and massage therapists business to, you know, doctors and dentists and engineers and veterinarians and professions like that. And, really, the first thing is, is to have some kind of plan right now it doesn’t, I personally don’t push, really thick paper business plan, I don’t think most people who are good at writing a 20-page business plan are probably good at being in business for themselves. You know, it’s kind of almost like two different skill sets. Yeah.
And a few every once in a while, somebody does come to me with this great business plan, or they created under our direction, or whatever. But for the most part, you still have to do that planning though, right, you still have to have a plan. And one of the ways that direction, right, you have to have a direction. And there’s a tool that’s a little annoying that but that I use all the time called a cash flow projection. This is the same document that banks now use to determine if a loan is going to be any good. And so it’s a matter of projecting all of the expected income and expenses for the business. And so if I can get a business owner or future business owner to create a cash flow projection, they have a pretty good idea of what’s going to happen to their business. Where will they be financially, if they do the things that they said they were going to do? Sure. And there’s this annoying saying, in entrepreneurship, that whatever happened to someone else, is likely to happen to you if you do the same things.
So if you know in your podcast, right, you’re going to emulate the best. And, you know, you can expect similar results if you do that. And maybe podcasting isn’t the best example. Because every once in a while, you know, somebody gets on Oprah, so to speak. And yeah, it changes everything. Right? So we can’t assume we’re gonna get on Oprah. But in terms of, you know, my business, if I hear, let me tell you a great story. I had a person who came into my office and they said, I want to be a caterer. Is that a good idea? And I said I’m not sure why don’t you fill out this cash flow projection? And we’ll see if it’s a good idea for you. And she did. And she filled it out. And she came back to me and she said, You idiot, I’m only going to make $24,000 a year next year. And I’ll have no medical benefits or anything like that. I’m earning the same amount already, as a cashier at Home Depot. There’s no way I’m leaving the safety of that job with benefits to earn nothing more. Okay, sorry about that. Sorry, it didn’t work out for you. Two went away.
And then I had a woman come into my office like six months later, and she said, I want to be a caterer, or is that a good idea? And I said, I’m not sure why don’t you fill out this cash flow projection onesie, and see if it’s a good idea for you? And she came back to me, she said, I’m going to make $60,000 next year. If I do this, I can’t wait to get started. So what was different about those two cash flow projections? Well, the first woman Her idea was to sell food at her Jewish synagogue to Jewish families during the Jewish holiday. She was a great cook for Jewish holidays. And, it was required literally that they eat those foods and those holidays, right? So at first, when the idea came to me, I thought, well, that sounds pretty good, right? We got a captive audience.
She knew 200 Plus families already just in that synagogue, let alone how it might grow. Yeah. But the issue was, it was hard to reach more than four or five families in a night. And there are only so many how dates on the calendar and the rest of the time. There aren’t a lot of times when people say, what do you eat for dinner? Let’s eat Jewish food. Yeah, they say Italian, they say Chinese, they say all sorts of things. But that’s just not a common choice. And so she wasn’t able to line up a bunch of event days. Now, she figured all this out in advance by doing the cash flow projection and asking the right question, which is great. Right. Right. Yeah. And, and then she had some a few other issues, you know, she had to rent a commercial kitchen and was quite expensive, and so forth.
The second woman was married to a golf pro and attended a lot of golf events. And they knew every golf course manager in Tampa Bay, and they could line up a golf tournament every weekend where she could sell her barbecue. Kind of like a barbecue wagon. Yeah, she could sell that every weekend, to hundreds of people at a golf tournament. So she could sell 100 plates or so of this food every weekend. Well, it was actually several 100. That was the difference. It went from small Jewish families, occasionally to every single weekend, hundreds of plates. And that was the real difference between their cash flow projection. And one person was going to make just enough to survive, and it wasn’t worth changing her life for the other person was going to, you know, increase her life dramatically. Yeah. So that exercise really does a lot to kind of just vet out that idea. Right. And like, maybe the first idea wasn’t a good idea. And she could have taken in a different direction.
Absolutely. Right. Right. She might have just modified it right, which happens a lot. So people come to me, they’re like ideas not quite working out. But if you stick with it and modify it, it might and we might be able to reduce expenses or increase sales in such a way that, yeah, that would work out.
What’s one thing that you see a lot that businesses struggle with? That is? Yeah, they’re just that it’s a part of the business that they have a hard time with or just kind of getting started?
I would say two things.
You know, one, one is that you know, people don’t know what they don’t know, right, you know, so they kind of get fearful of, of regulations of different kinds or requirements upon them, whether those big taxes or, you know, city permits, or that kind of stuff. And that’s all stuff that we can help with, those are all things we’ve bothered to get answers to at SBDC. So that we’re a resource for a lot of that.
Another is in marketing, everyone kind of wants to be scattered, or the easy thing to do is to be scattered. So they’re doing lots of good things. They’re going to a networking group, they’re going they’re putting their signage on their kid’s ball tournament, or, you know, whatever, there it is, there. Many of those things are fully acceptable, decent ideas, to market a business, but because they’re not coordinated, so that each thing has a potential follow-up to it, then they don’t work. So the marketing works really well as a campaign. So by the campaign, what I mean is, Oh, I saw the email you sent me about your podcast, or I saw, you know, I met you at this chamber meeting, and we talked about your podcast, and then we might interact after that chamber meeting where, you know, you send me an email and, and pretty soon I’m tuned into that podcast. Yeah, because of the consistency of event after event after event and, a lot of times, people are sort of afraid to just offer one thing at a time. But I can only buy one thing at a time. So it’s okay to offer one thing at a time if I’m not interested in sweets from the bakery, so to speak. But next time, it’s a savory main dish that you’re promoting, then maybe I’m interested in that, right, you know, and so if I’m consistently getting someone’s marketing into my life, whether it’s coming by email or Facebook, or whatever method it might be, it has to have consistency and follow up. And then it’s okay. It has to have an offer, you know, at some point, yeah, you have to say, come get it down it right. Come by this come by this thing, right?
And it’s really hard for services like business-to-business services. Yeah. They don’t feel like it’s this thing. But when you kind of recreated into this thing, like it’s a product, then people are better able to say I’m interested in that. But could we change that a little bit? Absolutely. We’re a service business. We could change anything. Yeah. But you have to offer him something before they can have that conversation with you.
Yeah. Cuz then you’re speaking kind of, you’re speaking to that one person, right, like, so every time your marketing message is geared towards that one person, and it’s likely to catch their attention. Whereas, if your message is broad and trying to reach multiple different audiences, you can reach no audience, right? Yeah, I remember, like, my first time in real estate, it was they were always, you know, the, I was always told, like, find your niche, right. And like starting out in business, as it can be. I think when you’re, when you’re a service, like, it can be hard to like, narrow that down, unless you just pick something from the beginning and say, Okay, this is what I’m going to focus on. And then I’ll adjust from there. But I struggle with that for a long time, until I kind of started the podcast and kind of found my groove and Palm Harbor. And then it was like, Okay, now this is my audience, right? And then who do I enjoy doing business with inside Palm Harbor inside this community? And then narrowed down even more? So? Yeah, you know, it’s a challenging thing to do. But I totally agree. Like, it makes so much sense to niche down and find your audience. Find your people.
Yeah, I think that’s really, really good advice. You know, a lot of people are afraid to narrow their offering to a smaller group of people because it doesn’t, doesn’t at first sound like a good idea. Right. But by doing that, you get noticed you get to be part of something. Yeah. And when you’re part of something is when you have those relationships that allow you to maybe sell into the relationship.
Yeah. And even niching down too– I think people forget to like, there’s still a large community, right, like, so for myself, like Palm Harbor, there’s still a large number of people that I can sell residential real estate to sure, even though I’ve niched down. So that it’s still huge, you know, let me tell a story about that, that I use all the time. I’ve actually never met this person. But for a long time, you could drive up and down us 19. And you could see billboards by a personal injury attorney named Fran Hash. Yeah, I’ve never met Fran okay. But the story is, from what people tell me, she and her husband are interested in Harley Davidson motorcycles, they go to a lot of motorcycle events.
And at some point, she figured I could make a niche out of motorcycles. So, you know, she started having a trailer and a tent or whatever, at different motorcycle events and saying, I’m a personal injury protection lawyer for motorcycle accidents, you know, PCIP is huge. It’s, it’s, I mean, and she’s up against Morgan and Morgan, you know, the largest Personal Injury Protection company in the world. But by having this niche, she eventually made a name for herself with a group of people who had similar interests. They were also there’s a lot of people out there who like to get on a Harley on Saturday or with their spouse, or whomever, and go to the same events, right? So she was able to find a group of people who had similar interests, who she could share conversations with and share relationships with, and sell to that group, which was far more narrow than just saying I’m a personal injury protection attorney.
But still at the end of the day, still a large group to sell to still plenty large. Right, right. I mean, yeah, there are 1000 people at a motorcycle rally. Right? So and there’s one every weekend. So yeah, the group is still huge.
Do you think that’s a big part of like, why businesses fail because of marketing,, their marketing efforts?
Sure. I think that’s, that’s one of those reasons, I think, kind of being lost and confused about, you know, what’s required. And then and then not marketing, you know, in an efficient way. If someone can keep an eye on my expected income and expenses so that they don’t get sideways with that, right? I get that a lot. I mean, people will call us when they get in trouble sometimes. Sure. I prefer when people call me before they get in trouble. But you know, sometimes they’re in trouble. And I had a call this week from somebody who had a respectable business, it’s just, they’ve got too much debt right now. And it, it’s comes from making choices along the way where we’ll go ahead and we’ll replace that air conditioner, or we’ll get that new vehicle or whatever, and maybe they weren’t ready for that. And so too many of those decisions result in oops, we’re gonna have too much debt. Yeah. Yeah, that makes sense. So that’s another common way people make a mistake.
Yeah, there’s a lot that goes into running and managing a business. Right? And there’s just, it can be challenging at times. That’s why I think what you guys offer is so great, because, you know, probably a lot of I don’t know what the percentage is, but a vast majority of them get into business and have no idea how to properly run a business. You know,
I hear this statistic all the time. It’s always slightly different. But you know, I want to say that you have only a slightly better than 50% chance of surviving when you start a business, right? But that’s assuming you just did what everyone else did. Sure. So if we can give you, you know, the advice to create a plan, do this cash flow projection kind of project, create a budget is what that really is. Yeah. Make some sensible choices about how to market this year, and increase your chances dramatically with a plan.
So step number one is to create that plan.
And again, it doesn’t have to be a paper plan title in the top business plan. It could be something different. It could be what works for that person.
Sure. Yeah, that’s great advice. I like that. So one thing I’d like to wrap up every podcast with is when you’re not working when you’re not helping another small business. What is one place that you like to go to kind of regroup and have some fun for Kurt?
Well, I’m a paddle boarder, I picked up paddle boarding almost 15 years ago. Oh, wow. Before it was well known. I was one of the first customers in Pinellas County I walked into a surf shop. And I knew they sold a brand of surfboard and coding gear and so forth, watersports gear, that was making paddle boards and it was like one of the first paddle boards manufacturers I said, Would you get me one of those paddle boards and they’re like, Well, you know, you have to pay in advance and it might take six months to get here. I don’t care. I’m gonna get it. Yeah. And so I was one of the first people to paddleboard in our area, and I have literally been all over the world paddleboarding. I’ve been to Alaska, Fiji, Hawaii, and races all over the continental US, California, and North Carolina. Doing it, just I’ve been all over that incredible paddleboard either for a race or for surfing because you can serve a paddleboard as well. And so usually if I have time off, I’m going to eventually be on a paddleboard. Yeah, somewhere on our gorgeous coast here. Yeah.
Do you have a favorite spot that you like to go to?
Believe it or not, we have waves in St. Pete about 100 days a year. So I go to Sunset Beach in St. Pete And when we have waves, okay. Yeah, see, like surfing the waves. That’s my favorite. But yeah, I live in Safety Harbor. So I’m often just paddling out in the bay on a race board.
Yeah, that’s pretty cool. Paddleboarding. You’re the first one that’s brought that brought that up. We have a lot of great things to do around here. But paddle boarding is pretty fun. Yeah, yeah. Cool. Well, Kurt, I appreciate your time. Thank you for being here. We’ll link everything to all your contact info and stuff in the description below. But if people want to reach out to you, what’s the best way for them to get ahold of you the best way is to get to that website, go out for Pinellas County Economic Development either Google Pinellas County Economic Development or go to PC ED dot o RG and we’ll get you started.
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