MANATEE -- The top business stories in Manatee County for 2012 centered around new retail development, new companies bringing new jobs and a new name for the county's economic development agency.
The top stories rated by The Bradenton Herald included:
1. Groundbreaking on the much anticipated University Town Center
The $315 million construction project, which got underway in November, is expected to become the busiest
retail hub from Tampa to Fort Myers when the mall opens in two years. When complete, the luxury indoor shopping mall will directly pump more than $400 million a year into the regional economy -- spurring growth for nearby commercial centers, boosting property values and creating thousands of new jobs along the way. Anchored by a Saks Fifth Avenue, Macy's and Dillard's, the mall will house 115 stores and six sit-down restaurants in 880,000 square feet along University Parkway near Interstate 75. 2. DeSoto Square mall sold and a refurbished shopping center planned
A New York firm known for rehabbing retail centers purchased the DeSoto Square mall in November, with plans to restore traffic at the aging Bradenton shopping center with a facelift and heightened security.
Mason Asset Management acquired the county's only indoor shopping mall for about $25 million from Simon Property Group Inc., which let its $61.9 million loan on the property fall into foreclosure.
Mason will own and operate a 492,997-square-foot portion of the 639,094 mall on Cortez Road, which represents all but the Sears department store. 3. The Manatee Economic Development Corp. formally separated from the Manatee Chamber of Commerce to become its own entity and developed a new marketing approach.
In January, the EDC announced it was slipping out from under the umbrella of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce and hired a marketing company from Denver to develop a new marketing strategy centered around "Think Global. Think Bradenton Area."
The organization was renamed the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. to sell companies on the idea of doing here.
4. HRK Holdings and Piney Point
Piney Point, a former phosphate facility purchased by HRK Holdings in 2006 to serve as disposal grounds for Port Manatee's Berth 12 dredging project, was the focus of environmental problems when in May 2011, the pipes and liners housing the dredged material sprung leaks, sending 170 million gallons of toxic water into nearby ditches and ultimately Bishop Harbor on southern Tampa Bay. A series of Bradenton Herald reports showed the spill could have been averted had the state stopped the project when a tear was discovered in the liner months before a similar rupture polluted the harbor.
5. Feld Entertainment announces it will move into a new production facility, bringing 235 new jobs.
Feld Entertainment, a Palmetto-based firm that produces live touring shows including the Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey, Disney On Ice, Monster Jam, and other motor sports events, announced a move from its Palmetto location into an expanded production facility on a 47-acre campus in Ellenton. The company plans to bring 235 new jobs. The site will mirror functions of the current facility on 17th Street East in Palmetto, where costumes, sets, lighting and sound for the 18 ongoing world tours are created. It also is where the 120 circus trains are maintained.
6. AirTran stops service to Sarasota Bradenton International Airport. United Airways returns.
In August, AirTran pulled out its service to SRQ. Airport officials said the move would strip $1.2 million and 360,000 passengers from the airport, nearly a third of its 2011 total. But then came United Airways announcement it would again begin operating out of SRQ, offering nonstop daily service from O'Hare International Airport in Chicago. Its inaugural flight in November came in time for the winter tourism season. 7. Pierce manufacturing closes its MedTec ambulance line, begins layoff of 325 workers.
After only 18 months of operating its ambulance line in Bradenton, Pierce, a subsidiary of Oshkosh, decided to discontinue its operation. Shrinking municipal budgets made the line unprofitable, company officials said. The first round of layoffs began in November.
8. New Port Manatee executive director hired
After the retirement of Port Manatee Executive Director David McDonald, the Manatee County Port Authority hired Carlos Buqueras, director of business development at Fort Lauderdale's Port Everglades from a pool of more than 80 applicants. Buqueras was hired at $175,000, with an increase to $183,750 after six months.9. Several new companies moved to Manatee bringing jobs
A Cape Coral company JRL Ventures announced plans to purchase the former Wellcraft facility in South Manatee to expand its composite tool-making business, creating 80 new jobs during the next three years at the long vacant site. The company engineers and builds composite-material plugs and molds used by other manufacturers to create products that range from flight simulators to boats and even rocket parts like the nose cones for NASA. IRISS, which manufactures infrared windows used for industrial electrical equipment, consolidated its manufacturing operation in Europe and its assembly plant in Bradenton into a new complex at the Lakewood Ranch Commerce Center. The $5.7 million project will include 33,000-square-feet of manufacturing and support operations.
Air Products and Chemicals Inc. plans to develop a manufacturing plant on portions of Piney Point and hire 250 local workers. 10. The Republican National Committee brought its convention to Tampa, with repercussions for local businesses.
The Republican National Convention lifted the nation's perception of Tampa Bay's eight-county region that includes Manatee and Sarasota. The national spotlight on Tampa Bay during the four-day political convention in August positively increased visitors' thoughts of the region as a place to vacation or do business by 18 percent, according to a study analyzing the impact of the event. Officials hoped the convention exposure would bring new capital investment or a major employer moving to the area.