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Plant City native brings Christmas cheer in new movie

A new Christmas-theme movie set to debut December 18 at Tampa Theatre and on digital video devices features a Tampa Bay connection.

The film, “An Evergreen Christmas,’’ starring Plant City native Charleene Closshey, brings her home for the holidays.

“It means a lot to bring the film back to my home, where I grew up,” Closshey says. 

An Evergreen Christmas is loosely based on the family of Closshey’s fiancé, Jeremy Culver, who directed and co-wrote the story with his sister, Morgen Culver.

The Culvers’ grandfather owned a Christmas tree farm in Michigan before he died last year.

The heartwarming film celebrates the values and community support often found in small towns.

In “An Evergreen Christmas,’’ Closshey portrays Evie Lee, a young woman forced to put her glamorous Hollywood career on hold to return to her small Tennessee hometown when she learns about her father’s sudden death.

As the eldest sibling, Evie discovers she has been named the executor of the family’s once thriving Christmas tree farm, an estate now strapped with a massive inheritance tax, much to her younger brother’s dismay.

Evie faces a life-altering decision whether to save the family’s legacy or pursue her music career. Her decision would ultimately determine her place in the world.

“Life is about reaching goals and dreams, and community support is important to that happening,” Jeremy Culver says.

Closshey agrees: “My character is more like a rock until she realized she needed that community support,” says Closshey, who attended Harrison Performing Arts Center, a performing arts high school in Lakeland.
 
The movie’s colorful cast includes veteran actor Robert Loggia and country singer and actress Naomi Judd, who portray Evie’s paternal grandparents; and Tyler Ritter, son of the late actor John Ritter, plays Evie’s ex-boyfriend who has grown up but still holds romantic feelings for her.

A special screening of the dramedy will be at 7:45 p.m. Dec. 18 at the Tampa Theatre in downtown Tampa. Closshey, Jeremy Culver and Morgen Culver are scheduled to attend, make introductions and participate in an audience Q&A after the film.

Closshey, an accomplished violinist who also plays several other instruments, says a three-minute video of a song in the movie called “My Tennessee Home” will be shown at the screening. The music video, filmed at the Southern Barn in Lithia, features about 100 Plant City and Tampa area residents.
 
Supporting and promoting the film industry in Florida is important to Closshey. 

“It’s where I grew up, so I have a great love for the state and its people,” she says.
 
“An Evergreen Christmas’’ also is available at Walmart and on iTunes, Amazon, and it hits Netflix on Dec. 21.

Mobile software development company adds 7 tech jobs In Tampa

At Nitro Mobile Solutions, company culture is critical.

The software development company, based in Hillsborough County just east of Tampa near the intersection of I-75 and I-4, is currently hiring for seven tech positions. Nitro Mobile Solutions is seeking: two iOS developers; two C# developers; one Android developer; one support specialist and one quality assurance specialist.

“The characteristics we seek in our employees, in order of importance, are: passion, drive, ownership, critical thinking, problem solving, and then skill,” explains Nitro’s Social Marketing Specialist Lauren Webber. “Many companies put ‘skill’ first, but we can teach skill -- we can’t change who you are. It is vital to our company to find employees who align with why Nitro exists, not only what we do during our existence.”

Nitro CEO Pete Slade founded the company in 2009 in Tampa after years of experience as a programmer ad solution architect both here and in the UK. The company’s products include full-service mobile applications and platforms that can be fully customized and managed by customers, with no coding experience required. 

“Our mission is to empower our clients through mobility,” says Webber. “Our services have morphed overtime from building business applications, to including middleware, to offering a complete ecosystem atop a platform. Flexibility in our vision, especially in this industry, keeps us current and competitive.”

Could you be the right fit for Nitro? The company, which has nearly doubled in size in 2014 alone, focuses on organic growth and cultural fit when seeking new talent. 

“Being open to different personalities who can collaborate together is vital to our office culture, “explains Webber. “We play just as hard as we work—and we work extremely hard, so it’s important to find new employees who fit into the culture we’ve created.”

A few unique job perks include quirky office lighting like lava lamps, complimentary coffee, and healthy snacks. Creativity, innovation, and freedom to “think outside the box” are encouraged, Webber says.

“Nitro provides an environment in which our employees can exercise their creativity. We encourage our employees to make each project their own,” Webber says. “The freedom, trust and value given to each team member adds to our collective job satisfaction.”

Hillsborough County's economic initiative, entrepreneurial center shine spotlight on startups

Hillsborough County is betting on small business. Back in Feb 2013, the Economic Development Council announced the Economic Development Innovation Initiative (EDI2), a measure to nurture the startup community and kickstart industry innovation. The aim? To support small business, build entrepreneurship, and grow technology in Tampa Bay.

Now in its fifth round of funding, the EDI2 program has received local accolades like the recent “TiETan of Entrepreneurship” award from TiE Tampa Bay, along with national recognition from tech leaders like Guy Kawasaki for its support of the local Startup Bus.

From support of small, grassroots initiatives to a well-developed board review and application process, Hillsborough County Economic Development Manager Jennifer Whelihan says the EDI2 program “is a model of transparency for its taxpayers,” and it could serve as a national model for County engagement with local business communities.

Whelihan credits the County Commissioners who created the EDI2 program for their leadership and dedication to technology and innovation. 

“They have assisted our community with the emergence of our next tech generation to help Hillsborough County grow on the tech map,” she says.

In the past year, organizations that the EDI2 has supported have created and retained a total of 168.5 jobs. An additional 1,366.75 intern hours worked at 127 events with over 2,565 attendees.

“Through the program, we are driving opportunities, growing a community of technology entrepreneurs and facilitating collaboration among existing organizations,” explains Whelihan. “Our collaborative efforts are truly growing our community’s entrepreneurial resources.”

After one year, four rounds, and close to $600,000 in support to entrepreneurial events and programs in Hillsborough County, the EDI2 program has developed new roots in the Entrepreneur Collaborative Center.

The rebranding of the former Small Business Information Center into the new, more tech-friendly Entrepreneur Collaborative Center (ECC) goes hand in hand with the very heart of the EDI2 program –- to serve as a hub for a growing entrepreneurial ecosystem, to encourage connections within the community, and to provide resources to startups and small business owners alike.
 
The new location in a yet-to-be-determined space in Ybor City will move County business initiatives closer to the growing downtown hub, catering to the many local entrepreneurs who operate from home offices or shared workspaces like the new CoWork Ybor. The ECC is set to open in Nov 2014.

“Business incubation and acceleration programs play a vital role in the quest to improve our community by evolving our entrepreneurial, technology and innovation ecosystem,” says Lindsey Kimball, Hillsborough County Economic Development Director. “Through the EDI2 program, we are driving opportunities, growing a community of technology entrepreneurs, and facilitating collaboration among existing organizations.”
 
The fifth EDI2 funding cycle application deadline is Oct. 31, 2014. Full program and application information is available online at the County website.

Hillsborough's EDI2 Program Celebrates Successes

Hugs, handshakes and a bit of humor keep the energy level high at Tampa Bay WaVE as a growing number of technology entrepreneurs leading the local startup community and public officials celebrate the 1st anniversary of Hillsborough County’s Economic Development Innovation Initiative (EDI2) program. 

Hillsborough County commissioners led by Mark Sharpe, who will join the Tampa Bay Innovation Alliance after he leaves office in November due to term limits, set aside $2 million to provide financial support for growing the startup community. The Alliance includes USF, University Community Hospital, H. Lee Moffitt Cancer Center and Busch Gardens.  

Setting aside funding for EDI2 is a recognition by Hillsborough that future economic and job growth, particularly in the Tampa Bay region, is much more likely to result from the cumulative effect of nurturing innovative startups than by investing the bulk of additional resources into attracting giant corporate headquarters.

So far, since its launch in June 2013, 55 applicants have received $598,583 to support networking and educational events, industry promotions and service providers. Additional program and application information is available online.

Some of the programs funded include:
  • East Tampa Business and Civic Association for the 2014 MLK Technology Business Expo
  • Hillsborough Community College Foundation for the Veterans Entrepreneurial Symposium
  • Learning is for Everyone, Inc. for the Robocon Tampa Bay 2013
  • Moffitt Cancer Center for the Business of Biotech 2014
  • Startup Bus for the Startup Bus Tampa Bay
  • Startup Grind, Inc. for eight monthly meetings
  • Tampa Bay Technology Forum for the Tech Trek 2014, Engine Peer Network Event, and Entrepreneur Network
  • Technova Florida, Inc. for the Tampa Code Camp and Ignite Tampa Bay
  • TiE Tampa Bay for the TiE Breaker III and TiE Angel Forum
  • University of Tampa for the Southeast Entrepreneurship Conference 2014
For more information about EDI2, contact Economic Development Manager Jennifer Whelihan with Hillsborough County’s Economic Development Department at 813.272.6217.

Writer: Diane Egner
Source: Jennifer Whelihan, Hillsborough County’s EDI2

Hillsborough County Pledges $1M To New Manufacturing Academy, Apprenticeship Program

The need for talented manufacturing workers has led Hillsborough County to pledge $1 million toward resolving the local "skills gap.''

A new Manufacturing Academy and Apprenticeship/Internship Program (MAAIP) is a meant to be a "three-pronged approach'' to closing this gap and promoting manufacturing as a viable career path for young workers. The MAAIP also plans to place special emphasis on marketing to students, veterans, women, minorities and underserved communities.

The $1 million in seed money will be split between the Manufacturing Academy; an Apprenticeship and Internship Incentive Program; and marketing of the two to potential private sector partners, students and their families. $350,000 is allocated to CareerSource Tampa Bay for execution of the program's initiatives.

"This is a robust, proactive step by our Board of County Commissioners,'' says Lindsey Kimball, Hillsborough County Economic Development Director.

The Manufacturing Academy will highlight manufacturing as a viable career path for middle and high school students and military veterans. Students who complete the Manufacturing Academy will be credentialed through the Manufacturing Skills Standard Council's Certified Production Technician (CPT) certification.

The two-year program fills a void, providing a "continuum" of seamless training between educational institutions and employers. MAAIP will package together existing resources through Hillsborough County Public Schools and Hillsborough Community College into new training opportunities for students of many ages. This pool will then serve as a resource for companies who wish to participate in the program to recruit new talent.

Because apprenticeship and internship programs can be costly, many companies do not have these programs in place. $400,000 has been allocated for Manufacturing and Internship Incentives. This aspect of the program aims to bring together students participating in the Manufacturing Academy with the local businesses that can provide on-the-job-training and real-world experience.

CareerSource Tampa Bay is tasked with the job of finding and enrolling manufacturers to participate in the program.

Participating companies must be for-profit manufacturing businesses located in Hillsborough County. They will be required to pay the apprentice or intern a minimum wage equivalent to the average entry-level wage for the industry. A maximum benefit of $8,000 per year per internship or apprenticeship may be paid. Once performance requirements are met, the program will reimburse the company for wages paid to the Manufacturing Academy apprentice or intern.
 
CareerSource Tampa Bay will aim to raise awareness and engagement of MAAIP to potential students and their families through promotional efforts and marketing outreach, including developing and launching a website to promote the manufacturing industry in Hillsborough County. The website will offer career-building resources like fact sheets, success stories, quick links, videos of local manufacturers, lesson plans and workbooks, internship and apprenticeship opportunities, and more.
 
The program will be administered by the Hillsborough County Economic Development Department for the Board of County Commissioners (BOCC).

The MAAIP is a "team effort,'' Kimball says. It allows the BOCC "to support the manufacturing industry in Hillsborough County by leveraging our existing partner assets to fill the talent pipeline and engage manufacturers in the development of meaningful experiences for students.''

Writer: Justine Benstead
Source: Lindsey Kimball, Hillsborough County government

Hillsborough County Grants More Than $200K To Local Tech Events

Hillsborough County has awarded $230,000 in funding to 31 local applicants through its flagship tech-centric program, the Economic Development Innovation Initiative (EDI2).

The EDI2 program is the first of its kind of Florida. Established in June 2013, the program aims to bring innovation, job creation, technology and new business to the Tampa Bay region. In an effort to lead this movement, the Hillsborough County Economic Development department set aside $2 million in funding to award to events and programs that are centered around technology and innovation. Led by County Commissioner Mark Sharpe, EDI2 awarded $307,000 to applicants in the first round of funding in fall 2013.

Some of the latest round of funding will go toward programs and events already well-established within the Tampa Bay community, such as Startup Weekend Tampa Bay 2014 in March, monthly StartupGrind events, and the Moffitt Cancer Center's Business of BioTech 2014.

The bulk of the funding was awarded to one-off conferences like Gulf Bay Consulting's Social Media Engagement event in September 2014, which received $12,375. Girls in Tech Tampa Bay, meanwhile, was awarded $12,500 for outreach and an event in December 2014, and TiE Tampa Bay's TiE Breaker III 2014, which took place in January, received $19,000. The University of Tampa's Entrepreneurs Student Organization was awarded $14,500 for its Southeast Entrepreneurial Conference in February 2014.

Other funded programs include the Computer Mentors Group, Inc., which was awarded $25,000 for the 2014 STEM Education Showcase Tampa, and Nuturism Media Group, Inc., awarded $25,000 for Running Lean Bootcamp. Both are in May 2014.

To view a full listing of funded projects and applications, visit the Hillsborough County website.

Events and programs must meet several stages of criteria before they are awarded funding, including the ability to measure event metrics and a way to clearly identify the economic development impact of each project.

EDI2 is "focused on building a vibrant and sustainable startup community and is centered on the use of technology and innovation,'' according to a news release from Hillsborough County.

Hillsborough County is currently accepting applications for its third cycle of EDI2 funding. Applications and additional information can be found at the EDI2 website. The deadline to apply for the third round of EDI2 funding is April 1, 2013.

Writer: Justine Benstead
Source: Annette Spina, Hillsborough County

Hillsborough Arts Council Launches Power2Give Donor Portal

A new online crowdfunding platform being launched this week is designed to solicit new donors and donations to support arts and cultural organizations in Hillsborough and Pinellas counties.

Power2Give is similar to other crowdfunding platforms such as Kickstarter or Indiegogo, but the focus is on helping local arts and culture organizations fund projects that might not be funded through traditional campaigns.

The concept began with the Arts and Science Council in Charlotte, NC. It has expanded to include 21 metropolitan areas who have raised $4.5 million through 1,880 projects in just two years. The Tampa Bay region will be the 22nd community to join Power2Give.

Projects are listed on the site for 90 days. If the fundraising goal is met before then, the project is removed from the site. If the goal is not met, the money is still given to the nonprofit, another differentiator from the all-or-nothing model used by many other crowdfunding platforms. The organizations also provide donors with non-cash benefits.

In the spirit of transparency, organizations are encouraged to break projects down to explain exactly what they cover. This transparency also aims to create more patrons for the arts by providing a closer glimpse into what goes on within the organizations. This idea has proven successful, with an estimated 44 percent of donors across the 21 metropolitan areas being first time arts patrons.

“You can feel confident that the project is real and the money is going somewhere,” says Terri Simons, director of program services for the Arts Council of Hillsborough County, the sponsoring organization for the Tampa Bay arm of Power2Give.

Power2give Tampa Bay
launches February 12 with over $100,000 in projects to fund, including: helping students with disabilities attend summer animation camp through VSA Florida, creative journaling projects for families of domestic violence through the Dunedin Fine Arts Center, a mosaic on the outside of the building at the Firehouse Cultural Center in Ruskin and underwriting costs for some of the performers at the St. Petersburg Jazz Festival.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Terri Simons, Arts Council of Hillsborough County

James Hardie Invests $80 Million, 100 New Jobs in Plant City

James Hardie, global manufacturer of fiber cement siding and interior products, is making an $80 million capital investment in eastern Hillsborough County, expanding its Plant City operations and creating 100 new manufacturing, engineering, project management, and administration jobs by 2015.

"This is an exciting time for James Hardie in both Plant City and around the world. Innovation that happens in Plant City resonates around the world, and the catalyst is the great environment we have here. Employees see themselves as a family, and that says a lot about the people in the city and the surrounding community," says Ryan Sullivan, south division general manager for James Hardie.

James Hardie's expansion plan includes 100,000 square-feet of additional manufacturing space, new machinery, and new equipment, essentially doubling production capacity to meet the increased industry demand for its fiber cement siding products.

The company first established operations in Plant City site in 1994, which currently employs 100 associates.

In 2012, in an effort to increase the community’s competitive advantage in high-impact economic development projects, the City of Plant City approved a moratorium on the collection of transportation mobility fees.

Resultantly, James Hardie received a fee waiver of $37,300, further solidifying market productivity, regional economic growth, and job creation for Tampa Bay.

"This is great news for our community. Manufacturing is an important part of our economic growth strategy," says Mark Sharpe, chairman of the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners.

The company is also eligible for Florida’s new Machinery and Equipment Sales Tax Exemption program, which was approved by the state legislature in May 2013.

"James Hardie has been a valuable member of our business community for more than two decades. Its decision to expand in Plant City is a testament to the strong business environment we’ve created, and validates our role as a top manufacturing and distribution center," says Plant City Mayor Mary Thomas Mathis.

For more information on career opportunities, visit James Hardie online.

Writer: Kaye Brown
Sources: Ryan Sullivan, James Hardie; Mark Sharpe, Hillsborough County BOCC; Mary Thomas Mathis, City of Plant City

Dart Container Corporation Invests $14 Million, 24 Jobs In Tampa

Dart Container Corporation, the world’s largest manufacturer of foam cups, is expanding its east Hillsborough County operations in Plant City, investing $14 million in a new 400,000-square-foot facility and adding up to 24 new jobs in the process.

"This is incredible news for the residents of Plant City, and we thank Dart Container for its continued commitment to our community. As we work to bring more quality jobs and investment to Plant City, Dart Container stands out as a true story of partnership and success. We expect this to be the first of many announcements as we grow our business base," says Plant City Mayor Mary Thomas Mathis.

Based in Michigan, Dart Container has 45 locations in eight countries, and more than 14,000 employees, including 230 at its existing 480,000-square-foot plant in Hillsborough County.

The company’s 2012 purchase of Solo Cups increased production volume, prompting the need of additional warehouse space. Many Solo Cups brand products will be distributed from the company’s new Plant City site. The facility is expected to be complete by mid-2014.

In 2012, in an effort to increase the community’s competitive advantage in high-impact economic development projects, the City of Plant City approved a moratorium on the collection of transportation mobility fees.

Dart Container received a fee waiver of $139,200, further solidifying additional market productivity, regional economic growth and job creation for the Tampa Bay region.

Tampa Hillsborough Economic Development Corporation, the Tampa Bay Workforce Alliance, the City of Plant City, and Tampa Electric Company & Peoples Gas (TECO) all played critical roles in the project to impact the region’s development.

"We’ve committed dedicated resources to identifying new opportunities for the attraction, expansion and retention of jobs in this area. The exciting announcement by Dart Container reinforces the success of that initiative and serves as a milestone for future efforts," says David Pizzo, Tampa Hillsborough EDC Chair.

For more information on career opportunities, visit Dart Container’s website.

Writer: Kaye Brown
Sources: Mary Thomas Mathis, City of Plant City; David Pizzo, Tampa Hillsborough EDC

Citizinvestor Partners With Schools To Feed Hungry Children

A partnership between Citizinvestor, Feeding America Tampa Bay and Hillsborough County Public Schools allows the community to fund meals for at-risk children in Tampa.

The effort is the first community-wide initiative for Citizinvestor, a Tampa-based crowdfunding platform that allows citizens to fund municipal projects. The platform puts decision-making in the hands of the community by allowing them to provide funding for the efforts they deem most worthwhile, with the added benefit of being able to directly see where their dollars are spent.

With the title “Weekend Food Backpacks for Kids,” the $10,800 target goal will provide 12,000 meals over the school year to students in need at Oak Park Elementary School in Tampa. 99 percent of the school’s students qualify for the county’s Free and Reduced lunch program. The students receive free breakfasts and lunches during the school week, but often go home to empty pantries on the weekends. These children are at risk for decreased educational performance, health problems and behavior issues.

"Success would be getting this funding as quickly as possible so Feeding America can pay for the meals that these children need in our community," says Jordan Raynor, co-founder and partnerships director for Citizinvestor.

The concept of crowdfunding is new to Feeding America Tampa Bay, but it seems like a logical fit because of Citizinvestor's knowledge of what the local community likes to support.

Citizinvestor recently celebrated its first anniversary, having funded 70 percent of its projects during this time. The startup’s success led to their recent opening of 550 square feet of office space in downtown Tampa. They will also be hiring a full-time Developer and Project Marketing Associate.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Jorday Raynor, Citizinvestor

Mosaic Wins Top Award For Corporate Philanthropy

The Committee Encouraging Corporate Philanthropy (CECP), which draws together corporate executives to address worldwide societal challenges, presented its 2013 Excellence Award in Corporate Philanthropy to Mosiac for providing sustainable farming education and assistance to developing countries.

The Mosaic Villages Project began in 2008 when concerned employees noticed how the global rise in food prices was affecting small-holder farmers.

"We felt that with our expertise and market presence, we could do something to help them," says Chris Lambe, director of social responsibility for Mosaic, a Minneapolis-based corporation that produces fertilizer from phosphate mined east and south of Tampa.

The project assists farmers in Guatemala, India and eight African countries break the cycle of poverty through skill development and sustainable farming practices. Mosaic’s agronomists and soil scientists visit villages to analyze the soil, build the nutrient base and teach simple modern farming techniques.  

The result is improved livelihood. Because the efforts are so concentrated, results literally occur within one planning season -- five to six months after the program begins.

"It's a difference between them not having enough food to eat, to actually having a food surplus," says Lambe. "They can not only feed their families, but also sell the food and have some income."

The program has had a tremendous success rate, with 90 percent of the farmers graduating from the 3-year program. Perhaps the most notable success is long-term societal change. The African villages have seen a 40 percent reduction in stunting (young kids not growing the correct height and weight because of malnutrition).

The program has also become self-replicable, with farmers in surrounding villages experiencing similar successes by observing.   

"Social change is occurring,'' says Lambe. "It's not just about the program anymore.''

Mosaic's employees in the Tampa Bay region are involved in the program in areas such as product production and quality, inventory management, shipping, logistics and the transportation of fertilizer from Florida to the African villages.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Chris Lambe, Mosaic

Alpha House of Tampa Adding Residential Assistants

Alpha House of Tampa is expanding its staff and seeking residential assistants to provide residential care, vocational preparation and childcare assistance to Alpha House residents. Alpha House is a nonprofit organization dedicated to serving homeless pregnant women and mothers with young children in crisis by providing safe housing and professional skills. Residential assistants will help Alpha House create safe, sustainable and effective futures for individuals in crisis.

The organization provides parenting classes, counseling, vocational training, spiritual support and other tools necessary for residents to become self-sufficient. They are now adding additional residential assistants to their roster and are also hiring a senior case manager to support their growing initiatives. Residential assistants will provide planning, scheduling and 24-hour residential support and care for 23 maternity residents.

Residential assistants play a core role in providing care and developmental assistance to Alpha House residents. "They are with the residents and help with maternity care, appointments, and transportation needs,'' says Rachel Luis, communications director.

Residential assistants should have experience working in human services and will be required to complete DCF background clearance and fingerprinting as well as receive and maintain CPR and Basic First Aid certification.

Several positions are available to help Alpha House achieve its goal of providing around-the-clock residential support: Thursdays and Fridays from 4pm to midnight and 3 pm to 11 pm; Saturdays and Sundays from 4 pm to midnight and 11 pm to 7 am.

Candidates may apply at the agency or may send resumes via email, via fax to 813.876.0657 or via regular mail to: Alpha House of Tampa, Inc., Attn: Barbara McCormick, Program Director, 201 S. Tampania Avenue, Tampa, FL 33609.

Writer: Kaye Brown
Source: Rachel Luis, Alpha House of Tampa

Hillsborough Engages Citizinvestor To Fund Prizes For Hack-a-thon

Hillsborough County is opening up data from several of its departments to the Tampa Bay technology community to see who can build the best app on top of the data. The Hack-a-thon is first event of its kind for the county government.

Tampa-based Citizinvestor is being used to collect funds that will go toward prizes for the competition. Citizinvestor is an online service that allows municipalities to submit projects that have already been approved but are in need of funding in order to come to fruition. The crowd-funding idea is to encourage citizens to invest their own money in the projects they care most about, letting local governments know where they most want to see funds spent. Credit cards are not charged until 100 percent of the funds are received for each project. 

Past funded initiatives include a project in Boston that put iPads into the hands of blind students who were able to control them by voice.

The Hack-a-thon is the first project in Tampa Bay to be funded through Citizinvestor. The county is seeking $2,700 in total funding. 

"Anything the community can be doing to promote civic innovation is a good thing,'' says Jordan Raynor, co-founder of Citizinvestor. "This particular project is exciting for transparency sake, making government more open. It's also another way to showcase Tampa’s technology talent.'' Raynor is also happy to see the county using a homegrown business to help others in the technology community.

The Hack-a-thon will take place April 12 -- 14, 2013 at Hillsborough Community College’s Brandon campus.

"This is a really big moment for Hillsborough County," says Raynor. "A lot of places talk about innovation. Hillsborough County is actually doing something about it.''

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Jordan Raynor, Citizinvestor

New Grants For Artists In Tampa, Hillsborough County

In a continuing effort to develop local artists and integrate arts into the community, the Arts Council of Hillsborough County is offering seven grants of up to $2,000 each to individual artists.

"The arts are what give us a quality of life,'' says Teri Simons, director of program services for the Arts Council of Hillsborough County. "They bring us together as individuals. Creativity of a community is a pretty good measure of the quality of the community.''

Since 1989, the Council has awarded $600,000 in grants to individual artists through this program. Last year's winners included Erin Cardinal Wright, who choreographed and directed a dance film called "The Enormity of Two,'' which explores the common threads that bring two people together.  

"The goal is to enable the artists to pursue a project that will help them take their career to the next level,'' says Simons. "That might be through education, a specific medium or technique, or maybe equipment.''

The council is also looking for ways people can bring the arts back into the local community to benefit the citizens. For example, last year's grant winner Crystal Haralambou used the funding for education and support of Shakespeare Behind Bars, a nonprofit program that uses theater to help juvenile justice offenders develop life skills and successfully reintegrate back into society.

Funds for this year's grants are provided by the Hillsborough County Board of County Commissioners and the Council's FIVE by FIVE art event.

The Council also funds a grant program for arts groups and cultural organizations, which typically opens in August.

Requirements and an application for the individual artist grants can be found on the Arts Council website. The deadline to submit an application is Friday, January 18, 2013.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Teri Simons, Hillsborough Arts Council

Straz Center Takes Arts To Tampa Schools, Students

The David A. Straz Jr. Center for the Performing Arts in Tampa offers high quality arts instruction to K-12 schools through a new Conservatory-To-Go initiative. Instructors from the Center offer on-site curriculum on a fee basis, allowing for a custom package designed to meet the needs of each individual school.

"They're getting a fully catered ongoing palate of arts education,'' says Wendy Leigh, VP of education for the Straz Center.

Subjects offered through the program include music classes such as string, percussion and woodwind instruments, theater and musical theater, and dance classes such as ballet and hip-hop. Most classes that are taught on site at the Center are also taught though the traveling program, which is meant to supplement arts programs currently in place in schools.

"In Hillsborough County in particular, the arts are very well served,'' says Leigh. But, most schools don't offer programs in dance or musical theater, allowing Straz to fill the gaps and provide additional enrichment for the students.

The pilot program at Most Holy Redeemer Catholic School provides theater and/or music classes to students in kindergarten through eighth-grade, serving more than 230 students since it began in September.

The program is in Tampa initially, but the goal is to eventually expand regionally.

"Not everyone can get downtown [for our onsite courses], so the more we can get these models to work the more we can serve the community all over the Tampa Bay region,'' says Leigh.
 
The Straz Center is participating in the Great American Teach-in on November 15. Schools interested in getting a sampling of this program can contact: (813) 229-7827.

Writer: Megan Hendricks
Source: Wendy Leigh, Straz Center
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