Say this about Rex Jensen, chief executive officer of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch: He is a man of action and vision.
And his latest action and vision are long overdue for the Greater Sarasota-Manatee region.
Jensen, along with the Gulf Coast Community Foundation and Lars Hafner, president of the State College of Florida, announced Jan. 18 their intention to construct a 72,000-square-foot facility on the eastern edge of University Parkway in Lakewood Ranch to serve as a one-stop, all-encompassing resource center for economic development as well as the nucleus for what Jensen hopes to become the new central campus for the State College of Florida.
The three groups dubbed the center “DEAL” — the Design and Economic Acceleration Lab.
It makes a lot of sense.
For far too long, the recruiting of new companies, the servicing of companies interested in moving here and the assistance provided to existing companies that want to expand have been a disjointed, inefficient and parochial process. To wit: Manatee and Sarasota counties each has its own economic development council. And that makes sense. The two jurisdictions have different government rules and policies. And like most political jurisdictions, each county has its politics.
But for prospective customers, it’s a hassle. Imagine the out-of-state company considering moving to this region. Its executives travel back and forth between counties, lining up meetings with economic development, chamber of commerce and government officials to gather pieces of information to be able to determine the best place to locate. Talk about an inefficient, exasperating process.
Jensen’s vision is to bring everyone involved in this process under one roof to serve as a Walmart of economic development information — a one-stop shop with representatives from every organization and agency involved in a corporate expansion or relocation. He sees the DEAL center housing databases of information for prospective companies on such things as inventories of available commercial space and housing; spreadsheets of comparative tax data; or access to resumes of prospective employees. And he sees State College of Florida serving as a primary institution focused on training and educating students to meet new and existing companies’ work-force needs.
Indeed, it would provide a great boost to the area to see State College of Florida blossom in a new central campus and become to this region what Gulf Coast University of Florida is to Lee and Collier counties and what the Ringling College of Art and Design is to the animation industry. Let’s be honest: As much as we want to believe the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee is an educational anchor here, it always will be a branch of the Big Campus in Tampa. And New College of Florida operates in a specialized niche. SCF has the potential to serve the widest market here and become a steady fuel for work-force and economic development.
As he often does, Jensen is bucking tradition and challenging the status quo with this new DEAL. No doubt he will make the tradition-bound economic development interests here uncomfortable and feel threatened. But they need not react that way. It’s time to break out of comfort zones and embrace new thinking and new ways of operating. Competition to new companies is always intense. It makes a lot of sense then to shift away from the traditional parochial interests and focus instead on the needs of the customers. Kudos to Jensen, Hafner and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation for taking risks and steps to be innovative.