Affordable housing and workforce development among top issues for 74 companies surveyed about the Sarasota County business climate

Economic Development Corp. staff conducted one-on-one interviews with top executives of firms in 2016

The EDC survey results include these examples of positive and negative factors in the county’s business climate. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Workforce development, housing availability and affordable housing were the biggest concerns expressed in a 2016 survey of the top officers at 74 companies in Sarasota County, the vice president for business development at the Economic Development Corp. (EDC) of Sarasota County told the County Commission on April 25.

The findings were part of the EDC’s efforts to identify the strengths and weaknesses of the business climate in the county, Joan McGill explained. She conducted the survey during one-on-one sessions with CEOs and chief company officers between March and October 2016, she added.

Efforts are underway to address workforce training, she noted, including internship programs provided through CareerEdge Funders Collaborative. Many of the CEOs also mentioned the Precision Machining Program at the Suncoast Technical College in Sarasota, she added. (Todd Bowden, superintendent of the Sarasota County Schools, has pointed that that program’s graduates remain in high demand among manufacturing firms.)

Moreover, the State College of Florida added an Associate of Science program in risk management and insurance services, McGill said on April 25, while the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee has created a minor degree in the same subject — only the second university in the state to do so.

The EDC shared all the information about workforce issues with the colleges and universities in the community, she told the commissioners. As a result, she said, the schools are working on new internship programs to address the needs. CareerEdge also recently hosted a roundtable focused on how to develop internship initiatives, she noted.

Joan McGill. Photo from the EDC website

In regard to the other top concerns, she continued, “Housing is a little bit of a more challenging issue. … You all are working on that right now,” McGill added.

The county’s Affordable Housing Committee has been collecting data, she noted, and it is expected to provide its final report to the board later this year.

When Commissioner Mike Moran asked Mark Huey, president of the EDC, whether Huey had any suggestions about improving the housing situation, Huey replied, “We’re not a housing organization, so our board hasn’t taken it up.”

Huey pointed out that the survey reflected the CEOs “reacting to what’s occurring” as they recruit employees and then hear those people talk about trying to find homes in the county.

In regard to statistics generated by the survey, McGill noted that 45% of the companies projected growth in revenue between 10% and 24% for the next year, with a total of 52 planning to add more than 1,000 jobs by some point in 2019. Thirty percent of the firms reported some type of expansion over the previous year, McGill noted. Seventy-seven percent are creating new products or services, she continued, and 55% are incorporating new technology into their operations. Of the 74, 29% do not have room to expand in their current facility, she said.

Among the firms were both young ones and a number that long have been established in the county, McGill explained; some were large and some were small. What they all have in common, she said, is the fact that they diversify the economy by generating most of their revenue outside Sarasota County.

Graphics show details about the firms surveyed in 2016. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Altogether, she said, they represented $3.7 billion in annual sales revenue, and they occupy slightly more than 3 million square feet of space. Ninety-three percent of them are headquartered in Sarasota County. They had a total of 7,656 full-time employees at the time of the survey, the report showed, with an average wage of $61,650. Forty-eight of them are involved in manufacturing and distribution, while another 14 are in business and technology, the report noted.

A graphic shows details about company growth projections. Image courtesy Sarasota County

Among the “areas where we shine,” McGill pointed out of Sarasota County, are utilities — electric, phone and cell service; parking and terminal facilities at Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport; the state and local tax structure; both K-12 education and universities and colleges; cultural amenities; and local government services and support. Fire and emergency services were rated good, she noted.

Company leaders voiced some concerns about the road network and conditions, McGill said, but those primarily were focused on the construction of the Interstate 75 diverging diamond interchange at University Parkway. The consensus, she added, was “‘It’s going to be awesome’ after the work has been finished.