A top-of-mind question from corporate real estate decision-makers who are considering locating a business in the Bradenton area is, "What are the opportunities for higher education in your community?"
This question goes to the heart of an issue all businesses face today: the quality and abundance of the workforce.
Fortunately, the Bradenton-Sarasota region is coming into its own as a community with an excellent array of choices for academic advancement that is tailored to the needs of business.
The region's higher education ecosystem includes a variety of institutions, degree programs and learning environments, while improved cross-pollination between institutions offers greater flexibility to students in designing their career pathways. Better communication between businesses and academic institutions makes education more relevant to opportunities in the local workforce, allowing more graduates to find a home here for advancing their careers.
Not many communities of our size can claim what we have here, from technical training to creative arts, and even doctoral programs at research facilities such as Mote Marine Laboratory and the Roskamp Institute.
This spring, Bradenton-Sarasota area colleges and universities conferred more than 1,900 academic degrees, including associate's, bachelor's and master's programs. That doesn't include the professional certifications earned by many more students at the region's academic and technical colleges.
The degrees students are receiving this spring align closely with local business demand. Graduates are setting their sights on careers in health care, business management, information technology, culinary arts, legal and financial management.
This year, I heard Dr. Carol Probstfeld, president of State College of Florida, speak about the consortium of colleges in the area and how these institutions are looking to collaborate on programs and integrate their assets in creative ways. The colleges involved are SCF, the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee, Ringling College of Art and Design, and New College of Florida.
Examples of collaborative efforts include joint-training materials and grant proposals, articulation agreements to allow students to transfer credits more easily, and cross-registrations let students create more
flexible learning pathways and capitalize on the strengths of the various institutions.
These relationships are unprecedented in higher education in our region, and hold great promise for attracting talent and preparing graduates to launch or continue their careers in Bradenton-Sarasota.
Colleges also are becoming much more in tune with local businesses, seeking input on curriculum and proactively recruiting internships for students.
One notable example is the partnership between Feld Entertainment and USFSM, which has created a launching pad for finance students to fast-track into full-time employment with the global, entertainment giant.
All of this activity boils down to a single, powerful asset for our region: opportunity. As I told the 320-plus graduates at Keiser University's commencement ceremony recently, identifying opportunity and going for it are keys to success.
Through improved communication and collaboration among institutions and with local businesses, the higher education ecosystem in the Bradenton area is creating more opportunity -- for students and for economic development.
Sharon Hillstrom, president and chief executive officer of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp., may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or 803-9035.