Manatee County has more to offer than beautiful beaches. It also is home to innovative companies and businesses. The county is headquarters for publicly held companies like Sun Hydraulics and TriNet. It also is where Tropicana ships the nation’s supply of orange juice.
A couple of decades ago, Nancy Engel, of the Manatee Economic Development Council, recalls boat-builders and food service companies dominated the landscape. Not anymore. Today, Manatee still has boat-builders like Chris-Craft and food services companies like Sysco Food Services-West Coast Fla., but there are also companies like Biolife, maker of a medical product that stops bleeding and Hoveround, a company that manufactures electric scooters.
Responding to market changes
“When I first came over 24 years ago, we had very different companies,” Engel said. “We understood their product. They had potential for high growth, but things didn’t move on such a fast pace. Nowadays, innovation ... and the ability to respond to market changes really drives a lot of the success.”
Of course, like the rest of the country, Manatee has taken its knocks of late. The housing boom of the early- to mid-2000s meant construction jobs were plentiful. When the bottom fell out of the market, it reverberated across the county. But experts are optimistic that will change.
Manatee County officials are concentrating on attracting “value-added” industries and businesses — ones that sell their goods and services to places outside the local area, thereby bringing new dollars into the community.
Bob Bartz, president of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, said those jobs typically pay 115 percent of the national annual wage and literally breathe new life into the community by way of outside dollars.
“If I make a dollar here by selling you an ice cream cone and I take that dollar and I buy a loaf of bread, the dollar just keeps circulating within the community,” he said.
But that’s not to say the county doesn’t have companies already competing on a national and global scale. Take for instance Pierce Manufacturing. The division of Oshkosh Corp. with 400 workers makes emergency vehicles and recently announced a $28 million contract with the U.S. Army for a water distribution and tactical support vehicle. There also is Eaton Corp., a firm with 300 employees that makes aerospace electronics components.
Creating the right climate
Manatee also possesses something that makes it a magnet for savvy professionals and semi-retired executives: Its beautiful beaches and pleasant climate. Not only does that create a good base of senior-level employees from which companies can recruit, it produces local entrepreneurs. That has spawned everything from biomedical start-ups to companies that serve the defense industry. Experts believe such entrepreneurship will help the area weather the current economic slump.