- February 24, 2023
Despite a move to eliminate public funding to the Economic Development Corporation by 2024, its leaders are asking the county to support new efforts aimed at attracting industry to the county.
Commissioners on June 8 approved a plan to roll back EDC funding beginning in fiscal year 2022. All funds would stop by the end of fiscal year 2024. However, should the EDC show proven growth within the next year, board members said they would restore funding.
To do so, interim president and CEO Dave Bullock said the county would need to improve its processes for industrial growth, a process which some commissioners appeared hesitant to launch.
Beginning in early 2020, the EDC began identifying land available for industrial development and what business owners would have to accomplish to bring a manufacturing business to Sarasota County.
Bullock said the county hasn’t added such land in the past several decades and what's available is quickly running out. Landowners of late have been leaning toward selling to residential developers instead of industrial buyers.
However, Bullock said the county needs to find a way to incentivize selling land for industrial purposes and prioritize setting up infrastructure in advance to help business operators get started.
In the past three years, the EDC hasn’t been able to respond to 12 requests for land because there was not a parcel to accommodate the requests. That equates to a loss of 1,515 jobs and $418 million in capital investments.
“We certainly wouldn’t have gotten them all, but when you can’t even get in the game, you don’t have the opportunity,” Bullock said.
EDC leaders made several recommendations to the county, including adjusting current Industrial Light Warehousing and Office, Professional and Institutional zoning to a new business park category.
The new zoning would allow a mix of office, production, distribution and warehouse spaces so businesses could more easily build to their needs.
Commissioner Al Maio said he was in favor of any changes the county needs to make to support job growth.
“We say all the time we want the EDC to land the big fish, but if and when they do, there is no place to put them right now,” Maio said.
In addition to the zoning change, Bullock proposed commissioners find a way to give incentives to landowners. One way to do so, he said, is to allow property owners to transfer residential land density from one parcel to another so they won’t lose out on a higher retail value.
Though she was supportive of assessing roadblocks to industrial growth, Commissioner Nancy Detert said the current situation isn’t dire enough to warrant incentives for landowners.
“I don’t think we’re at a big manufacturing crisis,” Detert said. “I think there’s still land to be found and I would not want to go to extreme lengths for this because they provide low wage jobs, frankly. This is not the hill I care to die on.”
Still, Bullock said the county needs to invest in the infrastructure for industrial parks. Ideally, he said, a right-of-way would already be secured for public facilities, a master utilities plan and a stormwater plan.
The EDC is not suggesting the county set aside thousands of acres for industrial use, just pockets of land. Leaders have identified areas in the Lakewood Ranch Corporate Park and near the Lorraine Road extension, the State Road 681 interchange and River Road as possibilities.
“When a business is looking to relocate, there’s three primary factors: time, cost and uncertainty,” Bullock said. “It’s very difficult to direct a group when there’s so many unknowns. What we’re suggesting here is to create areas in the county where it is known.”
County staff within the next 30 days will work with the EDC to consider an off-cycle Unified Development Code amendment that discusses zoning changes for a business park and possible Transfer of Development Rights deals.