PALMETTO -- A tour designed to highlight Feld Entertainment's headquarters and expansion efforts in Manatee County may also foreshadow the county's next investment in more jobs and a bigger spotlight on the national stage.
Feld Entertainment produces famous shows such as Disney on Ice and Ringing Bros. and Barnum & Bailey at its Manatee County facility and sends them out to 75 countries around the world.
On Tuesday afternoon, Manatee County officials, Florida's Secretary of Commerce Bill Johnson and Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. staff got a private show of Feld's inner workings.
The tour was meant to show the fruits of economic development incentives from the Manatee County Board of County Commissioners and the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. and the updates the Feld campus has undergone since moving its motor sports division to Florida from Illinois in mid-July.
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Johnson, who is also president and CEO of Enterprise Florida, joined the tour and said he was impressed with Feld's facilities. Johnson spent the day touring Port Manatee, Air Products, Feld Entertainment and IMG Academy with Sharon Hillstrom, president and CEO of the
Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp.
"A really important role for us at Enterprise Florida is to work with local economic development folks," Johnson said.
Casey Rodgers, vice president of finance and strategic planning for Feld Entertainment said one of the company's next big goals is to refurbish the north hall of its 9-acre facility and rent it out for rehearsals for big concerts and live shows. That's where the next public investment may come in and why Feld opened its doors to public officials.
ESPN and rock band Linkin Park have used Feld's facility for commercial shoots and technical practice runs The band members of Linkin Park didn't travel to Manatee County, but technical crews for the band did rehearse the show before debuting in Orlando. Rodgers said the next step is bringing the actual bands in for rehearsals.
"Then you'll get the groupies in, too, and start to fill the hotels and restaurants," Rodgers said. Feld doesn't have the revenue to support the renovation of the north hall and the company hopes to enter into a public-private partnership.
If Feld Entertainment can attract big names for rehearsals, Rodgers said they'll be more likely to start their tours in Tampa at venues such as Amalie Arena.
All of the logistics, planning, costuming, props construction, scenery and vehicles come from the Manatee County facility. Feld Entertainment is a good example of the approximately 60 company relocation or expansion projects the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. has worked on since 2009, Hillstrom said, because they have exceeded job growth goals two years earlier than projected and at higher wages than expected.
"Feld is a great story for us because we can say to other global companies" 'Look who's here,'" Hillstrom said.
Other Manatee County officials, including Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston, Palmetto Mayor Shirley Groover Bryant and Manatee County Commissioner Betsy Benac also attended the tour.
"It has been somewhat controversial to offer economic incentives," Benac said. "But I remember looking at this space and thinking it would be a job creator. And it has been."
Janelle O'Dea, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow her on Twitter@jayohday.