This article was originally published in The Herald-Tribune. On 01-08-18

Business executives and entrepreneurs looking to relocate their companies to greener pastures are increasingly making the prospective community’s quality of life a major — and even deciding — component of the decision-making process.

This plays directly to Sarasota County’s primary natural strengths. Between being in the Sunshine State and boasting some of the world’s top beaches, Sarasota County possesses a nationally recognized arts community, a thriving downtown attracting young people, a popular and growing biking/walking trail system and one of the best school districts in the state.

“Quality of life has become very important,” said Angela Grace, Principle at Atlanta-based Blackshaw Partners, “If there are several competing locations, it can be the ultimate deciding issue at the end of the day. What is the differentiator? It’s the quality of life.”

A community’s quality of life has traditionally been more of an afterthought for corporate relocations, which have focused mostly on location and costs. That’s changing as corporate culture and workforce requirements become more central for companies. Certainly, the nuts and bolts of a deal are still driving forces, but increasingly when those are similar, community quality of life becomes the determining factor. And sometimes, that is even in the mix with the nuts and bolts.

“There are times when quality of life will be more important than the incentives,” Grace said, noting that is not a majority of the time, but a growing trend.

A Land Policy Institute report recently found that quality of life such as “green infrastructure’ — parks, trails, water, weather, etc. — are major elements in attracting the coveted 25- to 34-year-old with college degrees demographic who make up much of the creative class. These are existing and relatively outstanding strengths in Sarasota County with the beaches, bays, Legacy Trail and beautiful year-round weather.

National organizations make the case most potently:

  • Sarasota is ranked the No. 1 best place to live in Florida by U.S. News and World Report;
  • Sarasota-Manatee is ranked No. 1 in Florida for young entrepreneurs by Moneyrates.com;
  • The North Port-Sarasota-Bradenton metro area is ranked the 14th happiest region in the country by National Geographic;
  • And Sarasota is still ranked as the No. 1 place to retire in the nation by U.S. News and World Report.

Quality of life is growing in part because of the importance placed on life outside of work by the Millennial Generation, which is aging and gaining growing influence on company decisions. This suggests the trend may actually accelerate in coming years and decades as that large generation exerts more influence, leadership and clout.

The reality facing companies is that attracting and retaining talented Millennials means companies must consider what type of lifestyle their younger workers will enjoy in a location.
Sarasota-based S-One Holdings Corp. sees that right now. S-One is a global holding company headquartered in Sarasota that oversees several subsidiary companies, including ABAQA, Avatrex, Brand Management Group, LexJet and Utopia Digital Technologies. Art Lambert, President and CEO of S-One, said the company markets nationally and emphasizes quality of life extensively to attract the types of employees it needs.

“We have a fairly young workforce. With that, quality of life plays a big part. It’s a closer for us,” Lambert said. His company sets up employee prospects with other young employees and lets them go to the beaches, explore downtown, maybe take in a play, go out to eat — give them the full experience to know the quality of life Sarasota offers outside of work.

“We call it ‘the power of the palm.’ Palm trees make a huge difference,” Lambert said. “Downtown is also a huge draw and it’s getting better every year.” S-One is headquartered downtown and most employees live within 15 minutes of the offices. “That’s an important part of quality of life. Kids today want to live near work.”

So for both attracting companies and keeping companies needing a young, innovative workforce, the quality of life is essential — and Sarasota County offers one of the best.

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