Manatee County’s economy appears to be firing on most if not all cylinders. While Lakewood Ranch and East Manatee are leading the way with numerous big projects, growth and change is coming across the county, too. The increase in industrial real estate leasing is but one indication that jobs are arriving as well.
People certainly are. The most recent census figures show the Bradenton-Sarasota-North Port region sports the 18th-fastest population growth rate in the country. All those thousands of people need residences, and Manatee County homebuilders enjoyed a stellar 2014. This year Manatee and Sarasota real estate transactions have reached historic levels, far outpacing last year.
Wisely, the business community is not resting on these laurels. Last week, the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. unveiled the latest strategy on business expansion and job retention. During Friday’s launch event attended by several hundred leaders from all walks of life, EDC Chief Executive Sharon Hillstrom outlined the ambitious plan’s goals: 62 new business relocations or expansions, 11 startup creations, 4,000 new and retained jobs and $460 million in capital investments.
Manatee County government laid a strong foundation for economic development by implementing fast-track approvals for various projects so investors do not become ensnared in time-consuming and expensive red tape.
The strategy follows a professional research company’s determination that this approach, called the Build Bradenton Area Plan, will best market the community as highly desirable without undermining individual cities’ branding campaigns.
On specific levels to attain the plan’s goals, the EDC intends to partner with a college or university to create a “village of innovation” in downtown Bradenton to foster entrepreneurship while providing space for networking and peer-to-peer relationships.
That sounds identical to the mission of the Station 2 Innovation Center downtown, which debuted six months ago in the historic Village of Manatee Town Hall building. Center directors Sara Hand and Stan Schultes welcomed Rep. Vern Buchanan, R-Longboat Key, for a visit last week.
The center, designed to harbor and nurture fledgling small businesses, will be opening an incubator program in early October while hosting the Florida Business Incubator Association’s fall conference. The innovation center is one big step ahead of the EDC.