Although most of the business assistance activity at the Sarasota County Economic Development Corp. happens behind the scenes, its biggest misstep was a highly public spectacle.
That event — an attempt to land a corporate headquarters that went astray and alienated several longstanding area business leaders and companies — is likely to play a key role in shaping 2017 for the EDC. The EDC is a public-private partnership with a board of high-powered area executives that helps retain local businesses and recruit new ones, oftentimes with county-approved subsidies and incentives.
The incentives side is what concerns Sarasota County Commissioner Mike Moran, who was elected in November. Moran has spoken in board meetings and retreats about the county’s need to improve how it tracks its return on its investments. That includes a deeper dive into the data, done more frequently.
Another issue Moran will pay close attention to in 2017 is whether there is too much overlap between the county’s Office of Business and Economic Development, run by Jeff Maultsby, and the EDC. Moran, in a December letter to County Administrator Tom Harmer, says he’s been “watching the OBED and EDC as a resident and taxpayer of Sarasota County and my concerns have been growing over the years.”
“After meeting with Mr. Maultsby on multiple occasions, I am concerned that the vision for his department needs to be much more defined,” Moran wrote. “I feel his department needs to be held to MEASURABLE goals that leadership can easily monitor.”
“After meeting with Mr. Maultsby on multiple occasions, I am concerned that the vision for his department needs to be much more defined.” — Mike Moran
Moran, in a December interview with the Sarasota Observer, also said he wants the county to “be extremely specific about the business we are trying to attract.”
That’s a reference to Project Mulligan, the corporate headquarters endeavor that put the EDC in the spotlight.
That happened in May, when county commissioners, by a 4-1 vote, rejected a proposal to use at least $720,000 in state and local funds to lure a national roofing company headquarters to town. That company, North American Roofing, ultimately agreed to move its corporate headquarters from Asheville, N.C., to Tampa. The performance-based incentives package for North American Roofing was $900,000, with $180,000 from the city of Tampa and Hillsborough County. The company is required to hire up to 180 people to earn the incentive.
The fallout from the failed effort in Sarasota to land North American Roofing was swift and steep. The area building and contracting community, led by several roofing companies, mobilized against the incentive package, saying it’s wrong to use taxpayer money to aid a competing business. The county lost a second time when officials were criticized in some site selection circles for missing an opportunity to land a headquarters.
Mark Huey, president and CEO of the EDC, says his goals in 2017 revolve around the ongoing mission of the organization — to recruit and retain companies that bring in and retain jobs. Huey, looking back at the failed North American Roofing project, added that “my No. 1 priority for the year is to be aligned with the County Commission.”