FOCUS ON MANATEE: Businesses help community plan for 2014

November 4, 2013 

With Halloween safely -- and sweetly -- behind us and Hanukkah, Thanksgiving and Christmas quickly approaching, many businesses have turned their attention to preparing for the new year. Goals have been set, budgets are finalized, and strategies are being honed that will help local businesses succeed.

Did you know that these types of strategies are also being developed to ensure that our community thrives in the coming year?

The same business leaders that focus on their bottom line to support jobs and create wealth also give tremendous time to work collaboratively on big picture issues that impact Manatee County through the Manatee Chamber of Commerce.

We hosted our annual planning retreat a few weeks ago. More than 100 business, community and government leaders came together for two days at their own expense to learn, collaborate and focus on business and community issues that need our attention. A significant portion of the agenda was dedicated to education and workforce with the presidents of USF Sarasota-Manatee, State College of Florida, New College, representatives from LECOM and Manatee Technical Institute, and the Manatee County Schools superintendent all in attendance. The open discussions included topics ranging from internships and job shadowing to skills gaps and career/job projections.

Often, the business and education communities speak "languages" foreign to one another, but I believe that we have substantially strong partnerships between business and education in Manatee County and our region. The Manatee Chamber has adopted several initiatives that aim to capitalize on these partnerships to equip students for even greater success and help employers fill their workforce needs now and in the future.

Another lively discussion centered on the booming sports performance industry and the tremendous econom

ic impact it has here. We hosted a fascinating panel discussion with Premier Sports Campus, IMG Academy, Benderson Aquatic Park, and Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex to better understand the opportunities and challenges our community has in attracting and hosting national and international athletes and competitions -- and bringing them back year after year. Everything from transportation to lodging and community hospitality to public/private partnerships affect our ability to capitalize on this niche industry. We also looked at economic development, law enforcement/crime, "How Will We Grow?" and a county government update, and survey data from local young professionals.

As I looked around the large conference room, I was once again reminded how special our community is. Year after year, the Manatee Chamber is able to bring together small business owners, elected officials, large corporate entities, educators and non-profits to tackle tough issues and forge relationships. The impact of having people sit together around a table to talk -- to really discuss all sides of an issue -- is incalculable.

In 2014, the Chamber has a number of priorities to add to our program of work in the areas of member satisfaction, advocacy, education/workforce and long-term planning. We'll call upon the expertise and energy of our 2,000 member business and organizations to build a positive business environment while enhancing our community's quality of life. Business people don't just work here, they live and play here, too. Together we are committed to making Manatee County the very best for all of us.

Robert P. Bartz, president of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, can be reached at 941-748-3411 or

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