Where to start a new small business? Bradenton ranks a lot higher than Sarasota

Bradenton ranks in the top 100 small cities for small businesses out of more than 1,200 small cities across the country, acccording to WalleHub.com.

Bradenton tied at No. 98 with Lafayette Colo. Holland Mich., ranked No. 1 and the highest ranking Florida small city, Fort Meyers, came in at No. 3.

Bradenton beat out neighboring Sarasota by 54 spots, with Sarasota ranking’s standing at 152.

Thanks to recent cuts in federal income taxes and other factors, 70 percent of small business owners surveyed by WalletHub said the time to start a new small business — or grow one — is now.

WalletHub looked at several factors, including business environment, access to resources and business costs, with subhead categories including access to a working labor force, average commute time, office space affordability, cost of living and more.

Bradenton fell behind somewhat in some of those key metrics ranking 482nd in access to resources, but scored higher in business environment, and better still in business costs, coming in at No. 96.

The report states, “A city with a smaller population can offer a greater chance of success, depending on an entrepreneur’s type of business and personal preferences.”

So what does that mean for Bradenton?

Better communication designed to attract and retain higher paying jobs.

Sara Hand, co-founder of Spark Growth and the Station 2 Innovation Center business incubator, said Bradenton is even better off than the WalletHub report indicates, and significantly better than Bradenton’s lowest score on access to resources.

“Before, people thought there was no money here, no investors,” Hand said. “But there are great companies here and plenty of resources, but we need to talk about it and share it better. One of the things Bradenton does well with is that we are geographically right in the middle of the Tampa Bay region and we are positioned well to start with.”

Joel Beasley is an example of a small business that is thriving and made possible from the resources available in Bradenton. The chief technology officer for Leaderbits.io Beasley’s podcast is No. 1 in the technology development world and named after his book Modern CTO. His company has recently expanded from 11 employees to 30 and it all happened right here in Bradenton.

“I originally thought the business environment in Bradenton was not good,” Beasely said. “I set out to start here and take my capital elsewhere but as I was having this conversation, I realized my problem was not connecting into the local community. I’m a native here so it’s completely my fault for thinking there were no resources here. I started talking to people and found there is an entire ecosystem of start-up resources.”

Beasley’s journey led him to Florida Funders, an organization that encourages and offers financial aid to start-up companies that are willing to keep their capital in the Sunshine State. Beasley said too many potential entrepreneurs stumble through the world of infomercials or end up buying into someone else’s idea of entrepreneurship, which rarely pans out.

There are plenty of resources and individuals who want to give that information for free right here in Bradenton.

“But going to events is not enough,” Beasley said. “You have to hang out after these events. I went to one last week and stayed after, picking up trash in my suit. About 200 people attended the event and only six stayed after. You have to get to know these people and those are the relationships that make real change.”

Changing the notion of what encompasses our “region” is another big aspect in changing the dynamic of the business environment.

Hand has always been a big proponent to change the narrative of Bradenton’s so-called regional placement. While Bradenton is considered to be a part of the Bradenton-Sarasota-North Port metropolitan area, Hand says when it comes to business relationships, Bradenton is part of the Tampa Bay region.

“It’s critical to separate that when it comes to business opportunities,” Hand said. “Connecting across the water will help harness some of the other resources we need.”

As a region that consists of Sarasota and North Port, the region last year dropped from sixth in 2017 to 22nd in a Best Performing Cities study conducted by the Milken Institute and published at workandmoney.com.

Tourism and service-related jobs helped to keep the drop from being more significant. While all jobs are a good thing, the question begs: how does Bradenton attract higher paying jobs and do we have the workforce to fill those jobs?

The short answer on the latter question is no. Beasley has had to hire internationally to fill his positions.

“As we align more with Tampa — because we can — the Tampa region is in the top 20 in GDP in the state,” Hand said. “But when you look at only yourself, we don’t have the density. But when we align as a region, we have bargaining power.”

Florida has the 17th largest economy in the world, according to the Florida Chamber of Commerce. Hand said what that means for this area of Florida is, “We have all this money, all this wealth, but we’ve all been very fractured. Collaboration is the key and that’s what you are seeing now.”

To transition Bradenton’s business environment to higher wages from typically lower paying service-related jobs that depend on tourism , Beaseley said, “It’s the chicken and the egg thing. Which comes first, the jobs are the talent?”

Beasley said people may not realize just how many different types of jobs there are in something like a high-paying tech field. He also said too many people give up on bettering their future if they didn’t get into a more skill-related job earlier in life.

“There are people in this area that are working on those problems,” Beasley said. “We need more funnels in education, but you also have the Education Center of Sarasota County, a nonprofit start-up arm that is trying content courses for kids right out of high school and about to go to college that gets kids ready for the real world.”

The bottom line on the WalletHub report for Hand is, “We are on the right track. We do need to do better sharing with potential small business start-ups the resources that are available to them right here in Bradenton, but they are here, ready, willing and able to help. But they have to come. They have to show up.

“The business environment in Bradenton is not only good, but we are only just tapping into our tremendous potential.”

Breaking News/Real Time Reporter Mark Young began his career in 1996 and has been with the Bradenton Herald since 2014. He has won more than a dozen awards over the years, including the coveted Lucy Morgan Award for In-Depth Reporting from the Florida Press Club and for beat reporting from the Society for Professional Journalists to name a few. His reporting experience is as diverse as the communities he covers.
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