Fred’s Marketplace Restaurant had a special visitor Tuesday morning. Congressman Ross Spano began his tour of local veteran-owned businesses in Plant City and then headed to Lakeland and Valrico.
Veteran business owners throughout Plant City, Valrico and Lakeland received special visits from Congressman Ross Spano Tuesday during a tour Spano hoped would help him hear what elected officials could do for their constituents.
The tour began in Plant City at Fred’s Market Restaurant. Several veteran business owners joined Spano at the legendary buffet to share their thoughts with him and discuss how COVID-19 has impacted their companies.
COVID-19 was the foundation all other conversations built upon, though not everyone at the table agreed that the virus was a deadly pandemic everyone should fear. However, the focus of the meeting was to gauge how the pandemic caused local businesses to shift their business models to adapt and what the largest obstacles were going forward.
“Veteran issues and small business issues are two of the things I’m most interested in and most passionate about,” Spano said. “We have so many small businesses and because we have such a large number of veterans in the district this idea seemed to go hand in hand. Especially with the impact COVID had on small businesses. I wanted to show that I hear them, I support them and I wanted to hear more from them on what more we could do in addition to what we have done to support them and get them back on their feet.”
Spano was even presented with a gift during breakfast. One of the businesses at the table was HEAVENDROPT, a company that makes materials out of retired military parachutes. The idea was born out of a visit to MacDill Air Force Base and the company’s Largo warehouse has more than 70,000 pounds of military parachutes from WWII to current productions. Spano was gifted a face mask made from the recycled parachute material.
While morning breakfast meetings at Fred’s are a staple for business leaders in the community, Tuesday’s event showed how much has changed. Each patron washed their hands at a sink near the buffet and then got their own set of gloves before they could walk down the line to scoop up their favorite goodies. Each time they went back, the process repeated.
Once their plates were full, the men discussed their concerns going forward. Access to capital was the major concern as many small businesses and entrepreneurs have little to offer the bank to receive loans. When Spano inquired as to how they were surviving, the answer was simple: they’re buckling their bootstraps and pushing through.
Spano alluded to an upcoming bill he wants to push soon that would allow veterans who serve to choose another route if they don’t want to take advantage of the prepaid tuition for college. If a veteran has a business plan and wants to start a company of his own, Spano hopes the bill will help make that happen by having those funds available if the business model is approved.
Talk of the future quickly filled the room and the question of change seemed inevitable for most gathered. Managers, in many instances, are discovering their employees are far more productive at home without the stress of commutes and distractions in an office. Large meetings are now capable of being held virtually — a reality Spano joked he never dreamed he would be a part of.
However, he lauded the glory of the free market and its ability to respond and adapt to a changing climate. The “seemingly draconic” measures the government put in place based on the advice of medical experts to keep people safe at the start of the pandemic successfully flattened the curve, Spano said, and now the question is “where do we go from here?”
A few at the table floated ideas and Spano listened while sharing his dedication to helping any way he could.
After breakfast, Spano and several of those who attended the first gathering headed to Xcellent Xteriors in Lakeland before heading to Headley Law in Lakeland and then Ring Roofing and WillPower Fitness Facility, both in Lakeland. He ended the evening at The Landing in Valrico for an After Action Review and meet-and-greet.