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Sarasota Thursday, Jan. 27, 2011 6 years ago

My View

by: Rod Thomson

There are two clarifying opportunities for Sarasota County leaders looking to restart the community’s job-generating capacities.

First the DEAL, announced last week for Lakewood Ranch, is the kind of smart, forward-looking concept we’ve all come to expect from Rex Jensen, CEO of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch. The DEAL center — Design and Economic Acceleration Lab — would pull together bi-county resources to be a one-stop shop for companies looking to relocate or expand.

It’s a great deal, if the two counties and their respective economic development boards can set aside territorialism and work together. For much of the border between Sarasota and Manatee, there is no real break. It is one community. But being in different political jurisdictions creates headaches, particularly for outsiders.

Here is one perfect opportunity to prove if there is a chance this could really work: Both counties’ EDCs commit not to offering any financial incentives to lure a company currently located in one to the other.

I know, I know, what a no-brainer, right? Unfortunately, there is a growing list of companies that have hopped borders and received taxpayer goodies — incentives, that is — to do so. A net transfer of tax money to private companies for little if any gain. Breathtakingly bad policy, but on it goes.

If this simple step of cooperation and bi-county unity cannot be taken, then the grand vision for DEAL could be truncated. It can be a clearinghouse of information, but that may be about it.

Second is the lure of Jackson Labs. The Maine-based research organization thought it had lined up a jaw-dropping $260 million for a research operation in Collier County. The plan was for $130 million to come from the state and $130 million to come from Collier.

When Gov. “Checkbook Charlie” Crist was in office, that seemed possible. With what we all hope is a fiscally responsible governor in office, Jackson Labs knows the game has changed — changed for the better for taxpayers.

But Jackson clearly still wants a lot of local moolah. After meeting with Sarasota officials, Jackson officials marched straight up to Hillsborough County. Like sports team owners and companies looking to expand, the Jackson folks know the importance of getting local government yahoos competing against each other to give the private lab the most public money.

First, get them all excited. Sarasota County Commissioners Christine Robinson and Carolyn Mason both gushed at the possibility of snagging such a big catch.

But how big is it? Jackson itself is promising 244 employees. At the $260 million original Collier price tag, that comes to north of $1 million per employee. Sign me up! Of course the expectation is that Jackson would become a hub spinning off all sorts of other wonderful, high-paying, clean technology jobs that everyone is so gaga over.

But all that is guaranteed is a few hundred Jackson jobs. All the rest is cross-fingered hope.

Sarasota County should pass. If there is some land and maybe regulations to ease and red-tape to slice through, great. But if it comes to bellying up with millions in taxpayer funds, forget it.

+ Clothing not optional
The nudists are wanting to preen again, at least for each other. The Suncoast Naturists want Sarasota County to create a beach area where clothing would be optional.

Probably not going to happen, but let’s remember that Sarasota County beaches have a great reputation right now. Having a nudist section on a portion of beaches would not only not improve that reputation, it would probably hurt it.

We attract a lot of families in the summer months. The threat that children could be exposed to exposed sunbathers is an unacceptable risk to a major industry.

Plus, juxtapose these two thoughts, but not for long: Nudists + Sarasota County’s demographics.

Government interference is dragging out the residential real estate downturn by as much as two years, at least according to Wells Fargo Securities Senior Economist Mark Vitner.

At a meeting of the Urban Land Institute recently in Bonita Springs, Vitner pointed at two acts that are delaying the needed correction:

• The first-time homebuyer tax credits program was only a temporary salve;

• The multiple states’ attorneys general pursuing legal actions against lending institutions that are in the foreclosure process.

“Most builders are going into survival mode again,” says Vitner, a longtime observer of the Florida economy. “Housing prices are likely headed lower.”

On the other hand, the government’s relative lack of political-driven intervention in commercial real estate has allowed market forces to quickly correct. “I feel much better about commercial real estate than residential real estate,” Vitner says.

Rod Thomson is executive editor of the Gulf Coast Business Review and can be reached at [email protected].


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