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Housing, workforce provide challenges to local business

A survey of local CEOs shows optimism about the local business environment, but affordable housing and workforce availability are obstacles to growth.

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  • | 6:00 a.m. April 27, 2017
  • Sarasota
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The Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County draws significant attention when it recruits businesses to the region, but the group’s primary focus is tending to the needs of companies already here.

As part of that emphasis, the EDC conducted its second annual survey of Sarasota CEOs in an attempt to gauge their feelings about the local business climate. On Tuesday, EDC leaders shared their findings with the County Commission and discussed how local officials can act on the feedback.

In total, 74 business leaders participated in the face-to-face survey, conducted between March and October 2016. 

Most of the participants come from the manufacturing and distribution industry. Business and technology and finance, insurance and real estate were the other major industry categories that participated.

The responses largely depict a positive picture about the business environment in Sarasota, EDC officials said.

“Most companies are experiencing job and revenue growth,” said Joan McGill, the EDC’s vice president of economic development. “There’s good quality of life.”

Among the findings:

  • 60% of respondents project sales growth to increase by 10% or more next year.
  • 30% of businesses have had or are planning a major expansion, with surveyed companies planning to add 1,059 local jobs during the next three years.
  • 86% of respondents rated the state and local tax structure as “excellent” or “very good.”
  • 74% of the respondents view the local economy as a community strength.

That last number represents a slight decrease from last year, which some businesses attributed to state and national economic conditions, McGill said.

Asked about challenges in Sarasota, local businesses keyed in on oft-discussed issues in the city and county. The availability and cost of housing both ranked as major obstacles, as did the availability of workers to hire for their businesses.

County Commissioner Mike Moran asked the EDC if it had recommendations for how government officials could address the housing issues. EDC President Mark Huey said that is an issue the EDC isn’t examining itself, but the group has been involved in recent county discussions with housing organizations and developers focused on that topic.

Moran said he hoped to devote more energy to that topic at a May 24 commission workshop, which he requested earlier this year to discuss economic development.

When it comes to developing a more robust workforce, the EDC is more enthusiastic about the progress the community is making.

McGill highlighted new programs at several educational institutions — including the University of Florida College of Engineering’s Innovation Station, the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee’s addition of a college of science and mathematics and Suncoast Technical College’s maturing precision-machining program.

“A lot of companies mentioned it,” McGill said. “They know it’s out there. It is helping, especially in the manufacturing area.”

Huey and McGill said this work will continue to guide the EDC as it works to support local businesses. The group plans to hold more meetings on the survey with other regional leaders to encourage a broad effort to address the issues raised.

Moran encouraged the EDC and the commission to stay focused on producing real results based on the survey’s findings.

“What do we do now?” Moran said. “I think the information is extremely informative, and it’s like any other puzzle piece we’re dealing with.”


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