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Bi-county economic development hub announced for Manatee, Sarasota

LAKEWOOD RANCH -- Three influential area leaders want to launch a central economic-development hub in Lakewood Ranch, with the expressed goal of jointly promoting Manatee and Sarasota counties to businesses looking to expand or relocate.

The proposed Design and Economic Acceleration Lab, or DEAL, would enhance regional collaboration and simplify job-recruitment efforts by housing various economic development players in one facility, its backers told the Bradenton Herald before officially announcing the initiative later today.

“It would be a one-stop shop for businesses,” said Lars Hafner, president of State College of Florida.

Partners in the effort are SCF, as the broker/operator; Lakewood Ranch’s developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch Inc., as developer; and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice, as workforce sponsor.

They plan to build a 72,000-square-foot facility, projected to cost $14.4 million and financed by bond money issued through SCF, along University Parkway east of Interstate 75. The hub could eventually be expanded to cover 300 acres, said Rex Jensen, SMR president and CEO.

SMR would develop the facility, with the college operating it and the foundation sponsoring workforce development. The facility is expected to be operating within 18 months, its backers said. Gulf Coast Community Foundation was represented today by its vice president Mark Pritchett,

Under the DEAL concept, businesses looking to expand or relocate in the two-county area could get all the information they need and meet with the right people at once, instead of hopping from place to place, said Hafner, Jensen and Pritchett. Other services expected to be offered there include worker training and business-plan development.

The initiative’s backers say the effort is not aimed at combining the counties’ separate economic development agencies, but it is hoped that they would participate.

Supporters say collaboration would enhance the Sarasota/Manatee region’s visibility, thus improving its economic development efforts.

Read Wednesday’s edition of the Bradenton Herald for the complete story.