MANATEE -- The Bradenton-North Port-Sarasota metro area averages a little better than mediocre when it comes to recovering from the recession, but the forecast for this year makes the area stand out.
The Bradenton metro area ranked 169 out of the 356 metro areas in the country for growth in gross metro product, according to a report completed by Global Insight Inc. for the United States Conference of Mayors, Council on Metro Economies and the New American City. GMP is the local version of the gross domestic product, which measures consumption, housing growth and investment, business investment, federal government spending, state and local government spending, exports and imports.
The Bradenton metro is forecast to have its GMP grow 3 percent in 2014 after a 1.1 percent increase in 2013, according to the report. The rankings are determined by averaging the growth rates from 2011 through the 2014 forecast.
While the ranking is a little above average, the 3 percent mark is considered "real economic growth" making Bradenton-Sarasota only one of 69 US metros with such a projection -- that's in the top 19 percent of all metro areas.
While the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. doesn't have its own projection for 2014, its phones have been ringing with calls from businesses looking to grow in Manatee County, said Sharon Hillstrom, president and CEO of the EDC.
"In terms of leads coming into our office, really good leads, we definitely should experience an increase in activity," Hillstrom said. "It's amazing
how busy we've been since coming back from the holidays. People say to me, 'Are you busy?' I am busy, but a good busy."
Midland, Texas, ranked No. 1 followed by Odessa, Texas. Sebastian-Vero Beach ranked 12 and stood out as best in Florida while the Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater metro area wasn't far behind at 25. Twelve other Florida metro areas ranked ahead of Bradenton-Sarasota.
The interest is coming across sectors, particularly in manufacturing and companies interested in Port Manatee, she said. In addition to new businesses, existing businesses here are looking to reinvest since federal spending has increased, she said.
Some signs of growth are already being fulfilled. Benderson Development's SRQ Commerce Park in University Park is adding 233,000 square feet of commercial and industrial space as local companies Berry Plastics and RND Automation & Engineering expand, while Spanish luxury sports car maker Tramontana and electric bike maker Oto Cycles are expected to set up operations in the area after Port Manatee wooed them.
While surprised to hear Vero Beach ranked so high in the nation, it's good Bradenton is situated next to Tampa-St. Pete for having a high ranking.
"Regionally, when your region does well, everyone is going to benefit from that," she said.
The report also ranked metro areas according to unemployment rates and employment gains, with Bradenton-Sarasota further down the list at 205. The metro area employment forecast for this year is a 2 percent increase after experiencing a 0.8 percent increase in 2013, according to the report.
The job increase forecast puts the region in the company of one-third (121 total) of other metro areas to see job growth of 2 percent or more this year.
Unemployment for the metro area is projected to be 5.9 percent this year, according to the report. The bi-county unemployment rate stood at 5.7 percent in December 2013, a marked improvement over 7.7 percent in December 2012.
Midland and Odessa also claim the top two spots while Crestview-Fort Walton Beach-Destin ranks the highest in Florida at 17 while Tampa-St. Pete checks in at 20.
"These numbers are welcome news and prove that our cities and metro areas are finally turning the corner and moving toward steady economic recovery," said Scott Smith, president of the U.S. Conference of Mayors and mayor of Mesa, Ariz.
"Mayors have always known that as cities and their metro areas go, so goes the nation. The bipartisan budget agreement is an example that Congress can, in fact, work together for the good of hard-working Americans, and we need this spirit of cooperation to continue for the nation's metro areas to thrive."
Charles Schelle, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow him on Twitter @ImYourChuck.