Flora Talks Economic Updates at Judge’s Breakfast Forum

This week’s guest speaker at the Thursday Morning Judge’s Breakfast was Nicole Flora with the Lake County Economic Development Corporation presenting on the EDC programs that are currently available as well as the upcoming Restaurant Expo.

Flora is originally from Humboldt County but moved to Lake County and was hired as the Executive Director of the Lake County Economic Development Center, becoming the EDC’s first employee since its founding as a corporation in the 1980s.

When it began the EDC functioned as a middle man facilitating USDA Loans to local businesses but evolved into a broader spectrum of services after the devastating wildfires from 2017. Flora joined the team in November 2019 stating “My goal at that point was to create a plan for resilience in economic development.” In order to achieve this goal, Flora prioritized building strong relationships with the surrounding counties while bringing in more resources, providing local businesses with access to advice from experts related to their field as well as help with technical expansions at no cost to the business. Flora joined the NorCal SBDC (Small Business Development Center), a network of 38 counties which provides business resources from the Bay Area to the Oregon border.

“This is my first effort in developing our regional sense of economic development,” said Flora. This has allowed the EDC to reach out to experts outside of this county expanding their capability to assist businesses on a larger scale.

According to Flora, “Our mission is to facilitate the creation, the retention, the expansion and the attraction to businesses in Lake County.” The EDC accomplishes this mission in two ways, by providing resources to businesses, including access to capital, while also encouraging local and regional economic development networking. Services they provide include access to COVID Relief funds, grant funds and other capital, as well as connecting businesses with professionals in their field. Their free one-on-one business consulting is multi-faceted offering further assistance in human resources, QuickBooks implementation, business plan development and marketing strategy planning.

The EDC is hosting two upcoming events which are the first of their kind for Lake County, a Restaurant Expo and a Restaurant Week. Flora noted “Last year there was a huge turnover in the restaurant real estate. Juicy’s Pizza closed, TNT is on the market, Jolly Kone was on the market… What happened is that huge rush of property had people knocking on my door saying ‘I want to open a restaurant.'” Seeing the opportunity to connect all of these potential business owners with the skills and information they require, the EDC has organized a Restaurant Expo, a two-day training course covering all aspects of owning a restaurant from payroll to permitting and everything else as a complete crash course in restaurants. The Expo will be held at Woodland Community College on January 30 at 10 a.m. and at Mendocino College on January 31 at 10 a.m.

The EDC is also promoting their first annual Lake County Restaurant Week from February 5 through 11 where they encourage the public to dine at our local establishments. To participate local restaurants are required to do one of the following – feature a local ingredient, offer a small plates menu or create a Prix Fixe menu. There are several restaurants already involved and more information can be found on the Lake County Economic Development Facebook page.

District 2 Supervisor Bruno Sabatier mentioned “There’s not one business idea that I’m approached with that I don’t send to the EDC.” Sabatier further detailed the importance of all levels of help offered by the department from establishing a business plan to aiding in the applications for necessary permits.

Laura McAndrews Sammel, Chief Executive Officer of the Lake County Chamber of Commerce, also noted “The Folks delivering those free services to businesses, they work really hard to vet those advisors and so those free services that those business owners are getting are actually from those subject area experts.” Flora responded detailing how her experts are not inexperienced but instead weathered business owners themselves.