What does this mean for you?
Your quality of life gets worse and worse. The collapse of the real estate economy in Sarasota County sparked an exodus of high-paid construction workers and their families—they went to North Carolina and South Carolina and Tennessee for jobs, taking along their contribution to the retail economy and the tax base. The companies that provide goods and services you use (electricians, plumbers, landscapers, dry cleaners, restaurateurs, grocers, clothiers, hair stylists) and the high-skilled workers, professionals, entrepreneurs, and providers of high-tech products and services that support and maintain our community (attorneys, accountants, police, fire fighters, chiropractors, computer and TV repair people) lost that revenue. In response those companies cut staff and line employees; scaled back production, services, or output; perhaps even went out of business.
Even Sarasota’s public schools felt the loss—fewer students meant less state and federal funding. More and more people and systems had less and less to spend in the local community.
In a closed system—what’s called a non-basic sector economy—local businesses that only serve local clientele can’t respond effectively to downturns. When their local customers stop buying, they downsize, resulting in fewer local customers. The local economy implodes, and your options—what you can buy; what services you can have; where you can go for food, entertainment; personal care—disappear. You’re stranded in a take-it-or-leave-it paradise.
That’s what we’ve seen in the last two to three years in Sarasota, and the bad news is that there aren’t many ways out of this mess.
One way is: start learning how to do without regular trash pick-up, roads without holes, police and firefighters, and all those other things that make life on the Suncoast so nice. If you live on the water, get friendly with the alligators—you’re going to be seeing much more of them.
A second way is: get ready to pay more taxes—on your property, on your purchases, and on your pastimes.
The third way, oddly enough, is the only one that carries good news. You + Business = Jobs.
Sarasota Tomorrow knows the way out of our trouble. The answer isn’t to die quietly, and it isn’t higher taxes. The answer is to bring money from outside the Sarasota area into the Sarasota economy—to convert to a basic sector economy—to sell what we produce to the world and to keep that money here by buying locally.
We can’t do that with real estate alone. Our real estate economy has trouble, too, and Sarasota Tomorrow has a plan for that. But our fast-track out of the economic death-spiral that has taken so many other communities in our country—the decaying cities of the Rust Belt, the empty mills of the textile South, the suburban ghost towns of the desert Southwest—is to develop a thriving export market, then buy locally.
What do we have that we can export?
First, Sarasota County’s strengths include:
- a dynamic entrepreneurial climate—80% of the businesses in Sarasota County are small businesses, 11% of the businesses are “second-stage” businesses (between 10 and 99 employees) that provide 38% of the region’s jobs;
- an array of educational institutions—The Ringling College of Art & Design, the New College, USF Sarasota/Manatee, and the State College of Florida, to name only the largest;
- a wide range of research centers—the Dattoli Cancer Center & Brachytherapy Research Institute, the Southeastern Spine Center & Research Institute, the Roskamp Institute, the Byrd Alzheimer's Center & Research Institute, and others.
But we face some stumbling blocks. Our community too often ignores our existing high-impact businesses. We currently lack skilled workers in highly desirable (i.e., high-growth/high pay) industries. We depend too much on quality of life to attract new businesses when we have other drawing cards.
What do we have that industries will come here and pay for?
We have a number of under-utilized resources:
- a powerful national reputation in water management, aquaculture, and oceanographic studies—thanks to Mote Marine Laboratories;
- a wealth of locally-educated talent in design thinking/problem-solving, commercial applications, and art—due to the Ringling College of Art & Design and our vibrant arts community;
- and, possibly our most egregiously overlooked resource, our aging population.
On that last resource: the average age of Sarasota county residents is 49.2 years—nearly thirteen years older than the national average. Sarasota is statistically the oldest large county in the United States2. We’re what the rest of the country will look like in ten to fifteen years.
This unique situation makes Sarasota County both a high-density market for products and services tailored to the aging and a made-to-order laboratory for clinical trials, test-marketing, and evaluation of these products and services. Thus, both businesses that provide for the elderly—health/medical fields, quality of life/recreational arenas, entertainment and arts, or personal services—and our citizens themselves—you—benefit from new opportunities.
Businesses will come here to take advantage of developments in design thinking and to find new solutions to new problems and better solutions to old ones. Manufacturing and aquaculture businesses world-wide will work closely with our local experts in green design and building, marine science, and water resources to achieve competitive advantages. And the world will purchase the creative expertise and technological know-how of our small businesses once they are made aware of Sarasota County’s brand in targeted markets outside the region. That’s money from outside boosting our economy.
We also have to cultivate the existing businesses that pay above-average wages and commit vital local investment—the manufacturing sector and the financial services sector prominent among these. A variety of local economic agencies and services are working together to develop partnerships:
- to build supply chains—the series of value-added activities and modifications that takes a product from raw material to the consumer;
- to implement economic gardening principles—access to key research and market intelligence, face-to-face and on-line networking opportunities, peer- and outside-expert counsel;
- to expand business’ web access; and
- to forge the strong venture capital/high-tech/incubator connections that accelerate innovation and bring the world of business to Sarasota.
What can you do?
Buy local. The outlets are nice, but you can find selection and bargains right here in our community, and you’ll be putting your money to work in our economy. According to our sister Manatee County Chamber of Commerce, every $100,000 spent with on-line or out-of-state companies loses us a full-time job—with Floridians spending an estimated $11.2 billion on-line, that’s 112,000 jobs lost. You can help stop that bleeding quickly and easily.
Encourage your elected officials to think bigger. Incentives in the way of fee waivers, rebates, and tax abatements can do a lot to bring targeted high-growth/high paying companies to the area and help local existing employers compete and grow—especially small, green, high tech companies whose payrolls go into the local economy and tax base but who place little stress on publicly-supported infrastructure. A 1% rise in employment causes real personal income to rise uniformly by more than 6%. Click HERE to email your local officials!
Stay open. Stay aware. Your past experience with business growth is just that—past. New and emerging businesses in the 21st Century understand, on a dollars and cents level, that they have to fit in with your life. So they design and implement traffic-minimizing, low-impact, quiet workplaces. High tech industries, in particular, are environmentally conscious corporate citizens. If you listen, you’ll like what you hear.
Look out for your own best interests. If you don’t already, you will one day need the health care, high tech, and eco-friendly products and services of the vibrant, clean economy we propose to build. Make sure they’re around when you need them.
2. Sarasota County Openly Planning for Excellence (SCOPE)
3. USF College of Business research 2008
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What do you think?
Sarasota Tomorrow is interested to hear what you have been doing to support job growth in greater Sarasota. How have you been affected by current economic conditions? What do you think can be done to improve our quality of life in greater Sarasota?
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