SEBRING - P.J. Shannon loves small towns and saw the market for a motorcycle mechanic. Rick Strzelewicz just got tired of working for the other guy and wanted to open his own music store.
New businesses are springing up in Highlands County, said David Noel, a University of South Florida consultant with the Small Business Development Center on the South Florida State College campus.
"We get interest all year around," Noel said Tuesday. At 2 p.m. Wednesday, another half-dozen hopefuls will come from all walks of life with a new idea about an unmet need.
"Some of them are out of work and somebody said to them, 'Why don't you start your own business. Some retires want to supplement their income. We try to give them an idea of what it takes," Noel said.
Strzelewicz, who goes by the stage name of Rick Webster, has owned a music store before in downtown Sebring.
"Twice," Strzelewicz said. "The last eight years, I've worked for somebody else. But it gets frustrating when you've got your own ideas."
So a few weeks ago, he opened Heartland Band Supply at 209 Circle Park Dr. Dozens of guitars, ukuleles and mandolins hang from the walls; amplifiers and woodwind cases dot the carpet. He also buys, sells and consigns used instruments.
Shannon is from Boston, where he was trained at Berklee, the largest independent college of contemporary music in the world.
According to the latest U.S. Census statistics, Highlands County had 1,903 businesses in 2011 with 19,530 employees and an annual payroll of $540,147,000. Twenty-two percent of those businesses were retailers, 27 percent were health care or social assistance firms, 12 percent were food for accommodation or food service establishments. The other 39 percent were utilities, construction, manufacturing, wholesale, information, finance, real estate, professional or educational industries.
Dynasty Cycles North buys, sells repairs and fabricates motorcycles, so it could fit into several categories.
"We also have parts and accessories," Shannon said. He started at his parent's shop in Coral Springs, now the south store. In 2008, he went to fire school to supplement his income. Today, he's an Avon Park firefighter.
In April 2012, he opened his own shop, and a year later, he bought the former thrift shop building at 500 W. Main in Avon Park.
Business is so good, he's got five bikes to sell and another dozen waiting to be repaired.
"We've been blessed," said Shannon, who sincerely professes his love for his new hometown. "I'm giving back."
Small businesses have to be special to compete with their bigger counterparts.
"I take pride in my work," Shannon said. "They come back because they know the quality of the work they get is worth it."
Old customers have put their bikes on trailers and brought them to P.J. when other shops were closer, said his wife, Crystal, who pilots the front office.
Why are so many new small businesses popping up?
"I think most entrepreneurs are optimists," Strzelewicz said. "Donald Trump has crashed and burned how many times. We will always try again."
"It's better to plan out steps before they start putting money into the business," said Noel. More info or preregistration: 784-7378.