Big and bold were the themes of last Thursday’s Sarasota Tiger Bay Club panel discussion. Sen. Nancy Detert moderated a conversation on Florida's economic future; 370 people attended the talk at Michael’s On East restaurant, including cadets from the Sarasota Military Academy.
The four-person panel, which included Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam; President of Visit Sarasota County Virginia Haley; President of Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County Mark Huey; and President of Medallion Home Gulf Coast Carlos Beruff, discussed topics spanning from the expansion of the Panama Canal to water-management policy.
Topping the agenda, however, was a debate on how to stem Sarasota's “brain drain” of young professionals by making the area a more attractive venue for young start-ups and entrepreneurs.
“We've always been an exporter of talent,” Huey said. “We have tremendous educational resources here, and there are some cool companies in the area. Our challenge is to keep them here and help them grow.”
Putnam echoed Huey’s remarks, emphasizing the importance of enticing Florida university graduates to pursue and build businesses in the state.
“We want to be more than a reward for a life well lived,” Putnam said. “We need to attract more young people to live and work here.”
Beruff added that smart, efficient urban planning was an important part of attracting young professionals to the area.
“If we continue to think the same way we have for the past 20 to 30 years, then they won’t want to live here,” Beruff said, referring to the need for more walkable urban areas.
Panelists also discussed the importance of agriculture to Florida's economy and the potential economic repercussions of the expansion of the Panama Canal, which will make Florida a first stop for shipping routes out of Asia and could open up new markets for Florida agricultural products.
Putnam reported that Florida’s agricultural economy is a $100 billion annual industry, with a multimillion-dollar footprint in Sarasota County.
“Agriculture continues to be a viable source of economic growth for Sarasota County," Putnam said, explaining to the crowd of area business leaders and political figures that agriculture is less affected by economic fluctuations than tourism.