EAST COUNTY — A veteran of the utilities industry, Ian Harding had a burning desire to own a business.
However, what to do as a new career and when to begin was another story.
“I started looking for something that would make me tick,” says Harding, who had been visiting the Lakewood Ranch area from the United Kingdom, with his family, for several years. “(Lakewood Ranch) was such a great place to live, we decided (to move here). (To do that) I had to get (a business) that would qualify me for a visa.”
In mid-2012, Harding purchased a pediatric therapy clinic in Sarasota and worked to become a Realtor. Three months ago he opened his own business, My Home on the Gulf, a Realty company that focuses on helping entrepreneurs from the United Kingdom and Canada with finding homes and businesses opportunities in the area.
Harding, a member of the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance, says he knows the economy is still on the mend, but he’s hopeful 2013 will bring good news for small and large businesses alike.
“I’m hoping I made the right call,” Harding says. “I think we’re certainly not out of the woods yet. We need to be mindful of what we’re investing in and what we’re focused on. But there’s a general optimism out there — a cautious optimism. I’m optimistic. I wouldn’t be here otherwise. I think there’s a positive outlook (for 2013) for small businesses.”
Area economic and business professionals recognize 2013 may have its challenges — particularly pending the outcome of federal taxation and health-care issues — but they also remain optimistic, based on upward trends they’ve seen in the last year and talks with local business owners.
Bob Bartz, president of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, says redevelopment in downtown Bradenton and Palmetto has created excitement, while venues such as the Premier Sports Campus in Lakewood Ranch and Nathan Benderson Park and Fort Hamer rowing facilities are attracting both regional, national and international attention.
“Everywhere you look around the community, there are positive things happening,” Bartz says. “When developers and investors see (other businesses) investing, it gives them confidence to maybe do the project they have had on the backburner for a while.”
Consumer confidence, he says, was increasing upon entering the Christmas season, a good sign for the local economy, as well.
Sharon Hillstrom, executive director of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corporation, agrees.
Since 2009, 50 businesses either have expanded to or become located in Manatee County, and those jobs are expected to create more than 3,500 jobs over the next few years and also generate more than $1.7 billion in wages from direct and indirect jobs, she says.
In 2012, specifically, 13 businesses either committed to expanding or becoming located in Manatee County, projecting more than 1,500 jobs in the coming years.
“The majority of companies are global in nature, including national and international headquarters,” she says. “We are very encouraged by the level of interest in locating and expanding businesses in Manatee County. Better yet, we are excited about how much more can be accomplished for our community’s economic future as we move forward into 2013.”
The EDC, she says, has been recreating an identity for the area, by promoting the name “Bradenton Area,” as reflected in the EDC’s name change; it formerly was the Manatee Economic Development Corporation.
Starting in the first quarter of 2013, the EDC will launch a new website promoting the Bradenton area as a great area for businesses. Additional elements of the outreach include a direct-marketing campaign, working with local companies to cultivate leads and using social media to draw prospective businesses to the website.
“If a person is more familiar with a name and location, they’re more inclined to visit or consider it a future home for their company,” Bartz says. “Nothing is going to happen overnight, once the marketing efforts are under way, then I think it should pay dividends for the community.”
Unemployment is also predicted to decline.
Sally Hill, spokesperson for Suncoast Workforce, a nonprofit that helps match employers and prospective employees in Sarasota and Manatee counties, says unemployment in the two counties is expected to decline in 2013, as businesses continue to rebound from the economic downturn.
“There was a time when every industry in Manatee and Sarasota counties was losing jobs,” Hill says. “In 2013, we would anticipate the unemployment would continue to decline.”
Statistics from the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity indicate an 8.2% unemployment rate for Manatee County in October — the most current data available, as of press time — compared to 10.4% a year before. In 2009, unemployment was 12.3%, she says.
Statewide unemployment was 8.5% in October, statistics show.
“We’re moving in the right direction,” Hill says. “I think businesses are more optimistic, but there’s still quite a bit of uncertainty (because of taxation and health-care issues).”
Hill says certain industries, including education and health services, have remained strong, even during the recession. Manufacturing businesses and professional and business services companies also seem to be fairing well and seeing improvement.
Others, like construction, saw significant downturns, but are again gaining momentum, she says.
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Gregg Anderson, who owns a marketing and advertising company and also leads the South Manatee Business Coalition, adds companies, once again, are starting to carve out monies for advertising — something that vanished during the recession.
Businesses, however, are looking for more return on investment.
“It’s about using dollars wisely,” Anderson says. “I believe (there is a) very positive attitude about the direction the economy is going.”
• Florida’s seasonally adjusted unemployment rate for October 2012 was 8.5%. This represented 790,000 jobless out of a labor force of 9,342,000.
• Florida’s unemployment rate was down 1.7% points from the October 2011 rate of 10.2%. It was the 23rd consecutive month of over-the-year declines in Florida’s unemployment rate.
• Florida’s October unemployment rate was down 0.2 of a percentage point from the September rate of 8.7%. The jobless rate in Florida was below 10% for the 11th consecutive month.
• Total nonagricultural employment in Florida was 7,371,500 in October 2012, a gain of 67,600 jobs over the year (+0.9%).
• Florida’s annual job growth rate has been positive for the past 27 months. Prior to August 2010, the state had been losing jobs for three years and reached a low point of -7.0% in March 2009 and April 2009.
• Total nonagricultural employment increased by 14,700 jobs (+0.2%) over the month.
— Source: Florida Department of Economic Opportunity