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Focus on Manatee: This summer was anything but a vacation for your development team

Back-to-school time always reminds me of the essay teachers assigned each September: “What I Did During Summer Vacation.”

While school kids and their families perhaps spent time at the beach or visiting theme parks, the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. (EDC) pursued quite a different agenda.

In our role to market Manatee County as a business location, members of our team joined Enterprise Florida (the state’s economic development arm), Florida Power & Light and Sarasota Bradenton International Airport (SRQ) on a trade mission to the Paris Air Show.

One of the largest gatherings of aviation-related businesses in the world, the Paris Air Show provides an incredible opportunity to meet representatives from companies seeking to expand to Florida.

Over the course of five long days, we met with 16 companies to discuss the assets and resources that Manatee County offers to businesses. We particularly emphasized sites available on and near the SRQ property.

Based on those conversations and subsequent follow up, two companies plan to visit Manatee County to consider locating here.

In addition to attracting businesses to locate in Manatee County, the EDC works to help established local businesses expand. Workforce development is at the top of the needs list for those companies, and it’s critical in our global marketing effort, as well.

Education and training are key elements of workforce development, so we maintain close relationships with the region’s educational institutions.

In July, we joined other business organization leaders in the Manatee-Sarasota region in a conversation with Steven Currall, Ph.D., on his first day as president of the University of South Florida. Currall demonstrated his understanding of how each regional campus of USF contributes to the whole.

He wants to hear directly from businesses to ensure that USF Sarasota-Manatee’s future programs align with local needs, so we will help organize a regional roundtable discussion with employers this fall.

Also in July, we hosted a whirlwind tour of Manatee County’s business location assets for Jamal Sowell, the new president and CEO of Enterprise Florida. It is critical for the state to understand what Manatee County has to offer because Enterprise Florida often is the first contact businesses make when seeking a Florida location.

We showed Sowell around the Air Products’ manufacturing facility, one of Manatee County’s business relocation success stories, which illustrated the economic development potential of land surrounding Port Manatee. We gave him a taste for our burgeoning sports performance sector with a visit to IMG Academy and highlighted SRQ and the region’s aviation sector.

Sowell left impressed and with a better understanding of our community and how businesses can benefit from locating here.

This summer, the EDC also boosted the regional Brain Health Initiative with a $50,000 funding commitment. The initiative proposes the most extensive, long-term brain health study ever conducted, and the Brain Health Innovation Lab, a first-of-its-kind hub for breakthrough science in brain health innovation.

Added to established community assets like CORE at Lakewood Ranch and the Roskamp Institute, the initiative will be a catalyst to attract additional life sciences investment, expertise and innovation to our region.

Those are just a few highlights of what the EDC did this summer. To receive updates about our activities, corporate relocations and business expansions, register at

Also, save the date for our 2019 annual update event featuring a keynote from Juliette Feld Grossman, chief operating officer at Feld Entertainment Studios. The event will be from 5:30-7:30 p.m. on Nov. 7 at Feld’s Palmetto facility. Registration opens soon.

Sharon Hillstrom is president and chief executive officer of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. ( She can be contacted at or 941-803-9036.

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