Sarasota County EDC Tacks to New Opportunities in 2019

This article was originally published by The Herald-Tribune. On 12-03-18

Just as an experienced helmsman is constantly assessing wind and weather conditions, trimming sails and tacking for maximum speed, the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County is adjusting its annual plan to reflect the latest economic conditions.

The EDC is constantly talking and listening to our customers — companies diversifying the economy — as well as our many public and private partners that create the ecosystem through which we sail, to support them in identifying potential threats and opportunities that should shape our work.

The EDC relentlessly pursues its objectives to grow and diversify the Sarasota County economy with strong companies and good-paying jobs, while enhancing the county’s unique natural and cultural environments. We are a catalyst for creating a vibrant, sustainable and globally competitive economy.

In this constant pursuit, here are some of the economic weather changes requiring us to adjust our navigational bearing for 2019.

Workforce needs. Like many communities, but perhaps more acutely due to our growth, fitting the available workforce to the needs of the business community is a growing challenge.

Our educational and non-profit partners are working hard to deliver the workforce needs of the business community, but the data continues to show wide gaps in several sectors. These gaps are created when local educational institutions are tapped out on what they are providing and fall short of what businesses need.

This is true for manufacturers, financial services, tech companies, health care providers and so on.

For instance, the Management occupations gap in Sarasota County is projected to run at about 127 jobs per year over each of the next 10 years, according to JobsEQ, an economic development database by Chmura Economics & Analytics. The Business and Financial occupations gap is projected at 104 annually while the Computer and Math occupations gap is projected at 42 annually.

These are the types of industries that diversify our economy. The occupation gaps can constrain economic growth and cause us to miss out on opportunities to diversify our economy if we do not close them.

So the EDC is tacking to a workforce initiative. Normally our marketing is about attracting businesses, but now a significant part of it will be intended to attract workforce to fill occupation gaps. This will include video testimonials featuring local talent extolling the area’s work and quality of life opportunities; a targeted digital marketing campaign, and a new website providing clear access to job opportunities and other market information.

Atlanta Braves. With the Atlanta Braves opening their new spring training facility in North Port and hosting their first game in April, this is a great opportunity for the EDC to take full advantage of the new relationship with the Atlanta community as we have with the Baltimore business community and the Orioles’ spring training facility in Sarasota.

The EDC will be reaching out to Atlanta business CEOs to visit Sarasota County and learn about the business opportunities and the quality of life, while crafting marketing to take advantage of this opportunity. This year’s efforts will inform next year’s and beyond.

“The Braves organization is a game-changer for the city. It’s takes us to a new level. They are bringing a fresh face to the city,” said North Port City Commissioner Jill Luke. “The Braves are so giving, so community-minded. It is great to see them working with the EDC to help tell our business story to Atlanta CEOs.”

Public sector. There are also several public sector changes that are providing opportunities.

At the federal level, a new Opportunity Zone incentive tool has been established and awarded to both the cities of North Port and Sarasota.

Opportunity Zones were created as part of the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act of 2017. They are intended to attract private investment to low-income, difficult to redevelop areas by using tax reinvestment incentives to encourage long-term private investments. This will become part of our marketing.

At the state level, with a new governor coming into office, we will be highly engaged to identify and help shape economic development strategy and policy.

This coming year is brimming with changing opportunities in our economic winds, changes that we are navigating with great diligence and passion.

Contact Mark Huey, president and chief executive officer of the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County, at EDC is the public/private partnership leading economic diversification efforts by working with community and regional partners.