By Hannah Wallace May 31, 2008

Are you losing sleep—and hair—trying to get a project permitted? Banging your head against a wall of bureaucracy? There’s a consumer advocate program for businesses frustrated with the run-around, but few companies have availed themselves of the free service.

LINK, the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County’s business help hotline at (941) 309-1200 ext. 123, was renamed and reintroduced in January. The program aids businesses that can’t get to resolution with government agencies, utility companies or educational institutions. Dialing LINK is equivalent to accessing the resources and clout of the EDC to mediate a stalemate.

“This is not the first call a business would make, but the call when they can’t get a resolution,” says Joan McGill, vice president of business development for the EDC.

Typically, McGill responds to requests from companies seeking financing or startup assistance. “We refer them to the Service Corps of Retired Executives (SCORE) or the Small Business Development Center at Manatee Community College. They have relationships with SBA lenders who can evaluate their businesses,” she says.

But LINK also has champions inside each of its partnering agencies who will work to resolve a problem within three days. “They will make it a priority to go up the chain to find out what’s going on. The local people can’t resolve the issue, but they know who they can contact to get resolution,” says McGill. “We call it frustration mitigation.”

The LINK partners are Sarasota county and city governments, SWFWMD, Comcast, Verizon, FPL, the Suncoast Workforce Board, Sarasota County Technical Institute, Manatee Community College and USF. The EDC also maintains a library of free business assistance programs, such as the Space Alliance Technology Outreach Program (SATOP) for engineering expertise. “We consider ourselves resource brokers, so if we don’t have the resource, we will make a referral,” says McGill. “I would encourage businesses to utilize the service. I wish more people would call.”

The EDC LINK hotline works like a rapid response team to resolve the following:

Signage and permitting predicaments. One company was cited for flying its corporate flag beneath the American flag. A SMART Park wasn’t allowed to install signage advertising itself as such. The EDC intervened to resolve both disputes.

Utility easement unease. “A business had a piece of property and needed right-of-way through an FPL easement. We were able to help provide access to their company that was more direct and user-friendly,” says McGill.

Billing disputes. “Recently a small business moved and changed phone service. They couldn’t get their billing finalized with Verizon. The owner had spent hours with various billing departments and she kept owing money,” says McGill, who helped settle the billing snafu.

Inefficiency afflictions. The EDC keeps a library of resources and will make referrals to other business support agencies. For example, in partnership with space programs, SATOP offers up to 40 hours of free engineering services to companies with technical challenges ( The Florida Manufacturing Extension partnership can help with lean manufacturing (

Employee hiring headaches. “The Suncoast Workforce Development Board works with companies that are looking for employees or laying off employees. They can host a job fair. We know companies that are hiring and can make an introduction,” McGill says.

For more information, visit or call (941) 309-1200 ext. 123.

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