It was not always a foregone conclusion that Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine would locate in Manatee County.
If anything, Pasco County appeared to be the early favorite, says John McKay, a Bradenton businessman and former president of the Florida Senate.
But LECOM officials wanted to be careful in choosing their first location outside Pennsylvania, and broadened their search to include the area south of Tampa Bay. One of their stops was at Lakewood Ranch.
McKay and his business partner, Ron Allen, got a tip in 2003 from the then-CEO of Lakewood Ranch Medical Center that LECOM was considering building a medical school in Florida, and that they should travel to Erie to make a pitch for building in Manatee County.
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From that point on, it was almost a textbook example of how to achieve economic growth in a community through business and government cooperation.
“They liked Lakewood Ranch. Lakewood Ranch was very welcoming, and we found a great location for them,” McKay said.
Events unfolded rapidly. Manatee County Commissioners unanimously approved plans for LECOM-Bradenton in August 2003, giving Allen and McKay the green light to start work with their NDC Construction Co. on a three-story, $25 million building on Lakewood Ranch Boulevard. The school opened in September 2004 with 150 students. It was Manatee County’s first medical school, and LECOM-Bradenton became only the second osteopathic college in Florida.
In 2007, LECOM expanded its Lakewood Ranch offerings by adding a School of Pharmacy.
In 2011, when LECOM announced plans to invest $52 million in a new facility to house a dental college, Manatee County was ready with $203,000 in performance-based incentives and a 50 percent reduction in impact fees.
So, how has it worked out?
“The dental school is a great success. Just this month, the first graduating class produced 100 new dentists,” said Karen Stewart, Manatee County’s economic development program manager.
In all, Manatee County paid $174,000 in economic development incentives to LECOM. The $174,000 payment was based on the creation of 59 new jobs at $3,000 per job. The projected average wage exceeded the expected $67,164, averaging $74,341 per job.
LECOM-Bradenton also received $112,200 for the transportation impact fee incentive for a total of $286,200, Stewart said.
A 2013 study reported that LECOM had an economic impact on the greater Bradenton area of $90.9 million, a 112 percent increase from a similar study in 2009, the Herald has reported.
The dental college now has a staff of 110 at the school and its associated clinics, LECOM spokesman Pierre Bellicini said.
“We got a lot of value for the money and we think that the county did, too,” Bellicini said. “The close working relationship between local government and LECOM was very important to us.”
The dental college is operating at its maximum capacity of 400 students.
Since the college opened, it is estimated that students have provided care during 21,342 patient visits.
Patients can expect to save 40 to 70 percent for what they would typically pay during a visit to a dentist.
The tradeoff is that while the quality of the care is the same, it will take longer to complete because the students are still developing their skills, said interim dean Dr. Mathew Bateman.
In their fourth year, LECOM-Bradenton dental students go on to clinics in DeFuniak Springs, Fla., or Erie, Pa., for more practical dentistry experience. Those areas were selected for their large under-served populations.
“We are very happy with the way everything has turned out,” Bateman said.
The dental college at LECOM-Bradenton is always in need of patients, who can get care at sharply discounted rates. For information, call 941-405-1600.
Incentives at a glance: LECOM-Bradenton School of Dental Medicine
Address: 4800 Lakewood Ranch Blvd., Lakewood Ranch
Year incentives approved: 2011
Incentive amount: $286,200
Projected job growth: 58
Actual job growth: 59
Projected average wage: $67,164
Actual average wage: $74,341
Projected capital investment: $52 million
Source: Manatee County Economic Development Program