By Mark Huey appeared in Herald-Tribune 11-04-19
An event took place October 9 that flew beneath the radar. A new networking group launched with a nearly 100 people attending, representing about 25 local companies at Sarasota-based Clickbooth’ s headquarters. They were all technology firms, or heavy users of technology, and they represented part of the economic future of the county.
The new networking group, called Silicon Beach SRQ, is emblematic of the changes in the Sarasota County economic landscape as the technology arena blossoms here — and specifically in the advertising technology and marketing technology sector, in industry parlance known as ad tech and mar tech. Some of the firms in this space include DealersUnited, Clickbooth, AdRizer, Revcontent, AtLarge, AdHawk/FloorForce and more, plus a host of companies that increasingly rely on info tech professionals.
“Sarasota is home to a thriving number of companies in the ad tech and mar tech space. It’s a great place to grow such a business,” said Ami DeWille, Vice President of Marketing for Clickbooth, who was intimately involved with the launch. “But there were no real good tech networking opportunities.”
So, Erin Cigich, CEO of Clickbooth, and Pete Petersen, CEO of DealersUnited, collaborated to create Silicon Beach SRQ for like-minded companies and talent. Both of their companies are in regular need of new talent as Clickbooth has doubled its employee base in Sarasota in the past five years. (It also has offices in Denver and Bosnia.) DealersUnited has doubled in even less time.
“Sarasota is known as a retirement destination, but there are many things that are attractive to do for people of all ages,” DeWille said. “Silicon Beach SRQ is a resource for professionals, allowing them to get more plugged in and to become aware of what this community has to offer. Our hope is that it will help them feel more connected to the community as a whole.”
Silicon Beach SRQ is important in more ways than networking and plugging in to the community. It’s a point of proof that Sarasota County’s tech sector is maturing and creating a stable environment for more tech companies — a great sign for the future.
Nationally, the tech sector continues to grow, but most of it is now outside of the major, developed hubs in Silicon Valley, New York, Seattle, L.A., Austin, Texas and so on. Those locations are increasingly expensive, opening the door to communities such as Sarasota County. Regional employment at tech companies has reached 5,500 with an average wage of $72,200. There is a projected need for 3,000 more tech jobs in the next five years.
These companies have some very specific employee needs, which is one of the reasons that the EDC, in collaboration with State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota and several local tech companies such as DealersUnited, worked to get a $3.6 million grant from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity to create the Center for Advanced Technology and Innovation on the SCF campus in Bradenton plus a regional coding academy in downtown Sarasota.
Every community deals with skills gaps, and in Sarasota County, one of ours is in technology. Coding academies provide short but intense training regimens in a specific software field and are frequently taught by local companies needing those employees. They are industry driven in terms of what is taught. It is one of the ways of filling the skills gap in the tech sector.
The EDC tackled this skills gap and workforce attraction issue directly in its new website, which was guided by leadership from Clickbooth, Kerkering-Barberio, S-One, PGT, FCCI, MBJ Group, PNC, Adams & Reese LLP, CareerSource, Sarasota County, and Michael Saunders & Co. This includes a Jobs Now page and an extensive social media marketing campaign designed to entice career seekers.
Silicon Beach SRQ fits the straightforward vision of growing local talent and attracting tech companies. It clearly helps keep, and even attract employees. But it also makes a statement to tech companies considering relocating to Sarasota that the community is maturing and providing a stable place for talent to grow and expand.
For more information on Silicon Beach SRQ, the SCF coding academies and other technology initiatives, visit the EDC at www.edcsarasotacounty.com/techinitiatives, or contact Destin Wells at firstname.lastname@example.org. There is also a LinkedIn group for Silicon Beach SRQ.
Contact Mark Huey, president and chief executive officer of the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County, at email@example.com. EDC is the public/private partnership leading economic diversification efforts by working with community and regional partners.