Tropiflora of Manatee County
Founded in 1976 in Manatee County, Tropiflora grows, ships, imports and exports tropical plants, with a focus on the pineapple family. The company sells more than 5,000 varieties – more than any other nursery, anywhere, according to owner Dennis Cathcart.
Tropiflora specializes in supplying private collectors, small companies such as garden centers and many botanical gardens, zoos and public gardens around the world. The company focuses on local landscapers and consumers and hosts two major festival events at its nursery each year.
As Hurricane Irma rolled across the State of Florida in September 2017, it left in its wake, physical damage to the company’s nursery grounds. In serious need of repairs with winter approaching, Cathcart decided to reach out to the Florida SBDC at University of South Florida to get assistance in applying for the State of Florida Emergency Bridge Loan.
When asked about his experience with the storm and the assistance received, he recalled:
What type of damage occurred?
Most of our damage from Irma was wind damage with some damage to 22 greenhouses and three shade-houses with a total indoor area of six acres. Poly roof coverings, necessary for controlling exposure to rain and to cold, were all completely lost; 22 roofs of various sizes from 50 to 180 long but averaging 40 x 100 foot houses. In addition to the poly roofs, we lost shade cloth covering on about 50 percent of our structures. This material provides various degrees of shade, depending on the crops grown, from 30 to 80 percent shade factor. We will have to replace about 4.5 acres of shade. Other damage was relatively minor with some structure damage, irrigation damage, signage and some plants.
How will the Bridge Loan help?
The Bridge loan is exactly what we need to kick start our storm repairs. Some repairs were effected temporarily with used and damaged materials and some can be made permanent with these materials. Farmers don’t waste anything! We are in serious need of poly for the winter cover on a number of our houses that must be heated in winter. Winter is bearing down so this loan will help us get necessary materials to make the most critical repairs ahead, hopefully, of the onset of cold weather. The damages exceed funds available but the most critical repairs can be made with the Bridge loan money. With this loan and the repairs, we expect to be at our normal production levels very soon and be ready for our Spring sales season. No doubt that without the Bridge loan, our resources would not be sufficient to guarantee such an outcome.
How was the Florida SBDC at USF helpful during this process?
Extremely. I called FEMA first and was told that although they would check, they didn’t think that they could directly help us. They did say that they would contact the SBDC on our behalf. In the meantime, I also contacted the Department of Agriculture and Division of Plant Industry to really no avail. I was soon contacted by the SBDC, consultant Pat Gordon, who came out for a visit and said that she would get the application going for us. Essentially it was very easy with very little red tape, and fast! We are extremely grateful.