MANATEE -- Helpful community organizations, recent surges in younger demographics and a sense of hometown pride helped land Bradenton-North Port-Sarasota as one of the top 50 metropolitan areas to work for a small business.
WalletHub, a company that aggregates financial, business and company information for consumers, placed Bradenton-North Port-Sarasota at 26th overall in its 2015 list of "Best and Worst Cities to Work for a Small Business."
The area placed third for highest net small business job growth behind Cape Coral-Fort Myers and Lakeland-Winter Haven, and second for highest number of small businesses per 1,000 residents behind Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach.
The rankings are based on data from the U.S. Census Bureau, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, the Council for Community and Economic Research, the Kaiser Family Foundation, the U.S. Conference of Mayors and Gallup Healthways.
Johnette Isham, executive director of Realize Bradenton, said community support provides Bradenton-area businesses with the energy and traffic they need to survive and thrive.
"Whether it is Village of
the Arts, the farmer's market or our emerging restaurant scene, the community is really proud when new businesses start up," Isham said. "And I think they're proud of the momentum we've built up over the last few years."
Manatee County recently created the Manatee Millennial Movement, or M3, in response to housing issues faced by the area's substantial population of millennials, or those born between 1980 and 2000. Isham said millennials are a large segment of start-ups and businesses giving it a try in the Bradenton area.
"That momentum will be accelerated by small businesses and millennials who bring small businesses," she said.
When Mike Gold, owner of B Towne Coffee Company on Old Main Street, got tired of working for other people, Bradenton's low cost of living and incentives for business owners brought him to the area.
"The Downtown Development Authority and the city have done a lot to help businesses open," Gold said. "All the business that's opened down here in the last 10 years is just amazing." B Towne has been open for 11 years. Gold and three employees make up the coffee and sandwich shop staff.
When he opened for business, Gold renovated the shop where B Towne now stands and said the DDA helped with a façade renovation grant.
"They've put money into areas that need money," Gold said. "And they've done a good job getting the word out about events." Promotion of the Bradenton Area Riverwalk Regatta and the Bradenton Blues Festival brought many new customers to B Towne, Gold said.
In addition to grants and incentives from the DDA, Bradenton and Manatee County, business owners can take advantage of programs offered by the area's community groups and nonprofits. The resources for small businesses are here, Gold said -- people just have to look for them.
Manasota SCORE, a nonprofit funded by the U.S. Small Business Administration, provides workshops and business counseling to start-ups and area small businesses. They're partnering with Manatee Community Federal Credit Union for Building Bridges for Entrepreneurs.
The program is designed to help small business owners or entrepreneurs with counseling about personal credit and, in turn, become more attractive loan applicants, said Dennis Zink, chair of Manasota SCORE. Building Bridges also uses Bodetree software to review personal financial history and stage "what-if scenarios" to help clients understand what changes could be made.
The only other metropolitan area ranked above North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton in Florida was Cape Coral-Fort Myers, placed at 25.
Tampa-St. Petersburg-Clearwater was ranked 32nd and Orlando-Kissimmee-Sanford was 33rd. Miami-Fort Lauderdale-West Palm Beach barely fell out of the top 50 at 51st. Four other Florida metropolitan areas made the list but fell below the top 50, including Jacksonville and the Daytona Beach area.
Janelle O'Dea, Herald business reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7095. Follow her on Twitter @jayohday.