Manatee County's economic outlook appears promising. The real estate market continues to improve as both existing and new homes and condos sell quicker than in the past several years. Home builders are busy once again -- so busy some companies cannot hire enough qualified workers.
The tourism industry is setting records, with huge increases on Anna Maria Island in particular. Small businesses are expanding, too, as exemplified by several breweries and restaurants planning new locations in Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch.
Manatee's unemployment rate is dropping as well, falling to 7.5 percent in August -- down from 9.2 percent during the same month last year. (Numbers for September were not released last week because of the federal government shutdown.)
That report should be tempered by the fact that many of those new jobs -- 900 out of 1,600 -- came in the retail trade category. Those low-paying jobs in general merchandise, restaurants and other food establishments are not the target for the county's economic development team but they are nonetheless vital.
The best news, though, is this: Port Manatee has made some significant inroads -- again -- in attracting the attention of major companies interested in exploring opportunities here. The port inked a pact with an automotive processing company that will import and export cars here and yield somewhere between 100 to 200 well-paying jobs. Another auto company has expressed interest in the port, too, one that produces Spanish expensive luxury sports cars. A mammoth Amazon warehouse is planned for Ruskin, and the port just won $6.5 million in state funds for improvements.
Pasha Automotive signed a memorandum of understanding with the port two weeks ago in what can only be called a pubic celebration. A company executive called the new relationship "an absolute jewel." Pasha will finish the assembly of vehicles imported from Mexico and deliver those to American dealers as well as exporting cars to Latin American.
We appreciate John Pasha's confidence in Port Manatee and the county. The company's senior vice president (and grandson of its founder), Pasha is keen on the port's proximity to Cuba and Mexico as well as the connectivity to rail and highways routes to markets that will be vital to the timely delivery of finished products. Those vehicles will be completed here -- excellent jobs for residents potentially trained at Manatee Technical Institute.
While MTI already offers automotive service and collision repair training, the school is open to implementing other programs that serve local employers and fill the void in skilled labor. State College of Florida is another institution dedicated to workforce development, so new employers should tap that resource, too.
The Spanish luxury car manufacturer, AD Tramonanta, is looking at sites in Manatee County as an import destination and manufacturing location. Sarasota County is also in the mix. The company's cars -- equipped with customized Formula 1-style components in V-12 engines -- sell for anywhere between $500,000 and $1 million. Not a typical commuter vehicle, that should boost Manatee County's coolness factor, for sure.
While Florida and Manatee County still have a ways to go toward developing a strong economy, we're heading in the right direction.