Eric Basinger has been a busy man since taking over as executive director of the Manatee County Economic Development Council on June 1.
In a brief check of our archives, his name popped up in 15 stories and editorials in the past 3 1/2 months.
He’s been busy meeting leadership in the county and business community, getting acquainted with local issues and putting his first stamp on economic development plans in the form of a five-year strategic plan.
Initial impressions are that Basinger has a good handle on the future course for Manatee’s business development.
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He wants to spawn business incubators to foster growth of upstart high tech companies, ones that in the future will provide high-paying jobs and attract similar industries to the area. Entrepreneurs who have great ideas and are starting to build their home-based businesses would be enticed to join together in a joint facility where they could tap into research data, a customer base and shared services that would help each grow.
“They would only be in there three to four years and then graduate to building their own facility,” Basinger says.
The EDC is looking into federal money to fund the incubators and has set up a steering committee to work out the details on how to be the most cost effective and allow the start-up companies to concentrate on developing their products rather than worrying about things such as paying the rent.
Basinger calls the five-year plan “very aggressive, very proactive” and one whose guiding principles has garnered a 97 percent approval rating of the business community.
The Alabama native and Auburn graduate is nothing if not optimistic.
If you ask him about the fact that the economy is in the worst shape it has been in decades, he talks about opportunities.
If you mention high unemployment, he talks about the potential of employers like IMG, Tropicana, Bealls and Roskamp Institute.
He knows diversification is important and just relying on pitching great beaches and great weather isn’t the answer in attracting new companies to town.
“Just saying we are a great place to sleep, work and play is the worse thing you can do,” he says.
With states like North Carolina and South Carolina offering incentives that have lured away many of our players in the marine industry, Basinger knows how competitive business recruitment and retainment can be.
His approach crystallized in the strategic plan includes capitalizing on the aerospace and defense industries, ag tech, attracting more corporate headquarters, increasing clean energy businesses that are renewable and alternative, increasing high-tech manufacturing and durable companies with long-term investments, attracting life science industries, maritime and distribution and sports performance companies like IMG.
Basinger’s philosophy is simple. “I try to put myself in the shoes of the company and find out what is really important to them,” he said. “The more you can be a resource to them, the better.”
Has he discovered any surprises since he arrived? “I did my homework,” he says.
“I knew the port was a major player but the more you learn about it, the better you feel about it being a major driver (for the county’s economic development),” he said.
He was also pleasantly surprised by the number of small high-tech companies that call the county home.
“Roskamp is like having a research university here,” he said. Basinger hopes to encourage more clustering of biomedical companies here.