The Bradenton Area Economic Development Corporation continues to play a valuable role in Manatee County's business growth, as evidenced by Thursday's annual Progress Update event attended by some 240 people. The EDC's glowing report on its contributions to business and job growth over the past fiscal year, alongside strong projections for the future, shows a community on the rise.
In lending assistance to businesses either expanding or relocating here, the nonprofit calculates the addition of 570 new jobs and 332 retained positions during fiscal 2013-2014, which ended last month. Those figures could rise as the EDC's work on behalf of other businesses last year bear fruit. While the job numbers impress, the capital investment figures should have a greater impact. Those 570 new jobs are expected to bring more than $3 million in capital investment.
The future looks bright indeed. The EDC projects local companies will invest $447 million in capital improvements, create 3,500 jobs and contribute $1.8 billion in wages through 2021. Sharon Hillstrom, the nonprofit's president and chief executive, told the audience these capital investments are a strong sign of business confidence in the county. That's a lot of money that companies are unlikely to be gambling with.
Hillstrom took the reins of the EDC in December 2011, just weeks before the organization formally separated from the Manatee Chamber of Commerce and became a nonprofit. As an independent entity, the EDC could better grow its private investor base.
For the uninitiated, the organization helps relocating or expanding companies acquire government incentives and real estate, in addition to other services. The separation from the chamber is certainly achieving its goal of accelerating economic development.
Manatee County government is the pivotal player in all this, both with incentives and "rapid response permitting" to hasten development and construction. The EDC's estimate of future growth comes from the 60 expansions and relocations on the current list of county economic development awards. That number will almost certainly rise as the EDC recruits and assists additional companies over the next seven years.
County and state incentives in Manatee between 2009 and 2021 amount to more than $6.3 million, should the business expansions and relocations achieve the promised hiring, wage and physical expansion goals. The incentive money pales in comparison to company capital investments of close to a half-billion dollars over that time frame -- an incredible return.
Manatee County wisely keeps a tight rein on doling out taxpayer monies in incentives and doesn't write checks in advance. Businesses must prove job growth and high wages to earn the grants so tax money is protected from failures.
Thursday's EDC event should be called a celebration of an organization proving its value time and time again. Richard Hansen, president of Verde GSE, offered a testimonial. The EDC helped his small manufacturing company find a home, and now Hansen is working with the organization to locate a larger facility.
"They were very helpful in finding the first one," he said. "Anything that I've asked for, they've tried to dig up."
That attests to the EDC's customer service. Manatee County is blessed with an aggressive and successful economic development organization, and we look forward to greater achievements in the future.