Manatee County's economy appears to be firing on most if not all cylinders. While Lakewood Ranch and East Manatee are leading the way with numerous big projects, growth and change is coming across the county, too. The increase in industrial real estate leasing is but one indication that jobs are arriving as well.
People certainly are. The most recent census figures show the Bradenton-Sarasota-North Port region sports the 18th-fastest population growth rate in the country. All those thousands of people need residences, and Manatee County homebuilders enjoyed a stellar 2014. This year Manatee and Sarasota real estate transactions have reached historic levels, far outpacing last year.
Apartment construction also boomed, with 10 large complexes either on the drawing board, nearing completion or finished.
Wisely, the business community is not resting on these laurels. Last week, the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. unveiled the latest strategy on business expansion and job retention. During Friday's launch event attended by several hundred leaders from all walks of life, EDC Chief Executive Sharon Hillstrom outlined the ambitious plan's goals: 62 new business relocations or expansions, 11 startup creations, 4,000 new and retained jobs and $460 million in capital investments.
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Manatee County government laid a strong foundation for economic development by implementing fast-track approvals for various projects so investors do not become ensnared in time-consuming and expensive red tape.
The EDC intends to hire a director of business recruitment to cultivate relationships with companies and further pursue connections with site-selection consultants and lead generation firms, all vital steps to further spread the word about the county's business-friendly environment amid a warm, inviting coastal paradise.
The strategy follows a professional research company's determination that this approach, called the Build Bradenton Area Plan, will best market the community as highly desirable without undermining individual cities' branding campaigns.
One attendee called the plan very innovative and focused. "It's going to take everybody working together with the Economic Development Corp. to bring the county to the next level," said Johnette Isham, the executive director of Realize Bradenton, which wasbirthed by the city to promote cultural and business opportunities. Indeed.
On specific levels to attain the plan's goals, the EDC intends to partner with a college or university to create a "village of innovation" in downtown Bradenton to foster entrepreneurship while providing space for networking and peer-to-peer relationships.
That sounds identical to the mission of the Station 2 Innovation Center downtown, which debuted six months ago in the historic Village of Manatee Town Hall building. Center directors Sara Hand and Stan Schultes welcomed Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, for a visit last week.
The center, designed to harbor and nurture fledgling small businesses, will be opening an incubator program in early October while hosting the Florida Business Incubator Association's fall conference. The innovation center is one big step ahead of the EDC.
The EDC plan also includes the development of a culinary market or district near Village of the Arts, which would be a boon to the 14th Street West southern gateway into downtown Bradenton and a focus of city redevelopment efforts. An entertainment district near Palmetto's waterfront holds great potential, too.
Of the many housing and commercial development plans, Robinson Gateway promises to give the county a major showcase gateway along Interstate 75 to the north. Lake Flores will revitalize the western portion of the county.
Parrish and North County are poised for a breakout year of construction. Once work on the Fort Hamer Bridge is complete, Lakewood Ranch and Parrish will finally be connected.
As the one-year anniversary of The Mall at University Town Center approaches in October, Benderson Development is already working on expansion plans there and nearby.
Several major transportation issues are being addressed, with construction of the diverging diamond interchange at I-75 and University Parkway leading the way. The state is putting a high priority on a major overhaul of 15th Street East from Sarasota into Manatee. The county is working on building another east-west corridor between Bradenton and Lakewood Ranch.
This big-picture look at community growth shows a county determined to progress and not stagnate. We welcome the EDC's leadership role as a uniting force to usher in positive change and growth. Business leaders are implementing a smart vision for job creation and diversification, a vital element to growth.