Local economic development advocates aren’t letting a $9 million cut in Enterprise Florida’s budget hamper their visions for business growth in Manatee County.
On Monday, representatives from the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. and Manatee County government spoke to the Realtor Association of Sarasota and Manatee’s 2017 Leadership Academy. Together they provided an update at RASM’s North office, 10910 Technology Terrace, Lakewood Ranch, on what the county’s business and government economic development engines are doing to feed job creation and quality of life in the area.
Sharon Hillstrom, CEO of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp., said businesses look at a number of factors in an area before deciding to move there. The most important, according to Hillstrom, are potential workforce, business climate, access to large consumer markets, availability of desired real estate and incentives.
“Incentives are way down on the bottom of the list because all of these other things are so important and so vital to economic development,” Hillstrom said. “Really at the end of the day, economic development is so much more.”
The first factor mentioned by Hillstrom, a sizable, well-trained workforce, is also perhaps the most challenging, she said. Jacki Dezelski, the Manatee Chamber of Commerce’s interim president, agreed and said addressing the problem means more than just informing the new workforce at the student level.
“New for us this year is a focus on finding more ways to reach parents with information about successful careers in our community,” Dezelski said.
Skilled trade industries in Manatee County, like plumbing, construction and welding, have had a shortage of workers recently. The shortage spurs events like last week’s Construction Rodeo. Manatee Technical College, in partnership with the Gulf Coast Builders Exchange and dozens of area construction companies, hosted the inaugural Construction Rodeo to introduce high school students to trade careers.
Manatee County administrator Ed Hunzeker noted that with business growth comes more people moving into Manatee County, which presents another set of challenges.
“Our property tax revenue today is still lower than it was in 2007,” Hunzeker said. “Although in Manatee County, over 60,000 people have moved into the county. We have fewer librarians today than we had in 2007 and we have fewer people taking care of the roads and streets. At some point in time, something’s going to have to give to make all of that happen.”
Hunzeker’s contract as county administrator ends in January 2018 and the county is currently searching for his replacement.
Alfredda “Fred” Smith-Odato, chair of RASM’s Leadership Academy, said it’s important for the academy’s students to learn about economic development because it goes “hand-in-hand” with realty.
“Economic development brings people to the region and once they come to the region and decide they like it, they buy homes and that puts us in business,” Smith-Odato said. “Economic development is very important for the knowledge of a realtor so that if a customer has any questions, they can answer with some smarts.”