Request follows presentation on proposal for creating business parks to counter loss of potential company relocation sites to residential development
Prompted by a presentation that resulted from a request they made of the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County, the county commissioners have asked staff for a report on what Nancy Detert characterized as “any roadblocks that are preventing manufacturing companies from coming here.”
The report is to include an assessment of amending the county’s Unified Development Code (UDC) of zoning and land-use regulations so the Industrial, Light Manufacturing and Warehousing (ILW) category becomes “Business Park,” Chair Alan Maio added. That was one of the primary suggestions from Interim Economic Development Corp. CEO Dave Bullock during a June 9 presentation to the commission.
Although Detert initially indicated opposition to any new county effort to foster the creation of spaces targeted to manufacturers, Maio pointed out, “A business park could have a deli,” for example, as well as a childcare facility for workers.
“I’m getting more and more on board,” Detert responded to that comment, voicing her admiration for PGT’s creation of a childcare center for its employees. “It’s just a big bonus for moms and dads that work there,” she said of the Venice company.
Elaborating on Detert’s comments, Maio also asked County Administrator Jonathan Lewis to have staff look into how best the county can remove obstacles to manufacturing companies’ relocations, such as lack of necessary infrastructure on potential sites and the approximately two-year timeline for rezoning property for new uses.
Maio further stressed that he did not want staff to take more than 30 days to complete the board assignment.
At the beginning of the nearly hour-long discussion on June 9, Bullock noted that the commissioners had asked the EDC to research the issue of locations for larger employers — Major Employment Centers, office parks and ILW parcels in the county. Referring to the latter, he added, “We frankly think it’s the wrong name,” because it does not make it clear what the county needs.
“We know that there’s a growing employment base that wants to be here,” Bullock continued.
The county has between 8,000 and 9,000 manufacturing jobs, he pointed out. A slide he showed the board said, “Of all industries with over 2,000 employees in Sarasota County, manufacturing has had the second highest growth rate from 2010 to 2019.”
Further, the slide noted, employment projections for the county “indicate a demand for 3,000-5,000 manufacturing jobs and approximately 500 acres of industrial land from 2020 to 2028.”
Yet, Bullock stressed, the county lost more than 500 acres of Major Employment Center (MEC) land from 2007 to 2018. That property went to residential development, he said.
The EDC’s research, Bullock pointed out, could find no addition of MECs in the county “in several decades.”
In the meantime, he continued, the remaining MEC sites “are pretty close to being built out right now,” though a few do not have the road network and utilities connections manufacturers would need.
He showed the commissioners one graphic depicting the locations of the MECs and a second graphic, looking 30 years out, with no new MECs designated. “This should be a very scary graphic to anyone looking to grow and expand the economy of this county,” he emphasized of the latter slide.
“The market forces, left to their own devices, will not provide employment centers, office parks and places for manufacturing facilities,” Bullock added. “The market forces are so strongly residential.”
Bullock told the commissioners, “When the market isn’t providing an important community need, it begins to open the door for government.”
“You can’t overcome the market forces by regulation,” he added. Incentives become necessary, Bullock said. “There is no reason on earth,” he stressed, for a landowner to preserve property for manufacturing, because “It’s a financial detriment.”
Residential developments are “more lucrative than Business Park development,” said another slide Bullock showed the board members.
One possibility, Bullock continued, is for the County Commission to allow landowners to transfer residential development rights to other parcels, in exchange for keeping certain properties open for business parks.
Additionally, he pointed out, a primary reason to change the ILW zoning designation to “Business Park” is because of what the first word in ILW stands for: industrial.
The average person in the county, Chair Maio indicated, thinks of “old metal buildings with no landscaping, junk old vehicles, junk old cranes, sitting there rusting,” when someone mentions “industrial.”
Yet, Bullock noted, “Our industrial buildings look like schools or offices.”
New structures going up in Ellenton, he said, are called “flex buildings,” because they could be offices or warehouses with small amounts of showroom space, for examples.
Creating the spaces
Within the past two to two-and-a-half years, Bullock continued, “We’ve not been able to respond” to 12 requests from companies interested in land or buildings for relocation or expansion. In fact, the EDC has declined so many requests for proposals, he pointed out, “Site selectors don’t send ’em to us anymore because they know we’re not able to respond.”
Further, Bullock noted, company leaders looking to relocate will not consider having to deal with a potentially two-year-long rezoning timeline.
Without sufficient land for the creation of new jobs, Bullock said, residents have to move elsewhere, and “Commute times increase.”
At one recent point, he noted, 30,000 workers were living in the city of North Port, where only 10,000 jobs existed. The North Port City Commission has been working “very purposefully,” he said, to reverse that.
What the EDC is suggesting, Bullock continued, is the creation of areas where businesses can be located, “and it’ll take a while to do this.”
Areas without sufficient infrastructure, Bullock said, should be the focus of the extension of county services. Generally, a project has to be included in the county’s Capital Improvement Plan to get funding, he added, and that can take years, “even if it’s partly funded by someone else.”
For example, he noted, right of way has to be secured for public facilities. “That’s why starting now to work on things is important.”
Another option, he said, is for the county to amend its 2050 Plan for development east of Interstate 75 to require the designation of a certain portion of the Hamlets and Villages to allow for business parks. Given that a Village could have 5,000 homes, Bullock pointed out, residents are “going to have to drive to get to work, just like they do today.” Providing jobs within the Villages would eliminate drive time for many of the residents, he said.
“You don’t need thousands of acres,” Bullock added; 100 acres would suffice. “This takes a special discussion with the master-planned communities’ [developers].”
The County Commission also should look at creating business parks around future interchanges and along major east-west roads that will connect to the interstate, he said. Loraine Road, which will extend from Lakewood Ranch to Laurel Road, he added, should be another example of the focus of new business parks.
Considering the options
Commissioner Ron Cutsinger thanked Bullock for the work that went into the report. “Sarasota wants to be in the running for [new] companies,” Cutsinger added.
Concurring with an earlier comment Bullock had made, Cutsinger said, “We’re not going to regulate our way here. … We’ve got to work with landowners and developers to make it make sense for them.” The goal, he emphasized, is the creation of “good quality, higher-paying, career-building jobs for Sarasota County.”
Initially, Commissioner Detert expressed skepticism about Bullock’s proposals. “Do we have a list of names of manufacturers that are dying to come here that can’t find any land?”
He did not, Bullock responded.
“I don’t think we’re at a big manufacturing crisis,” she told him.
“I would not want to go to extreme lengths for this because [manufacturers] provide low-wage jobs, frankly.”
Later, she said she felt he had identified all of the “spots in the county that would accommodate ILW. “It’s a good first start. … The earlier [the county starts the process], the better.”
Chair Maio acknowledged that he was the one who had asked for the report that Bullock was delivering that day. When he was a principal of the Kimley-Horn consulting firm, before his election to the commission in November 2014, Maio said, he was aware of people “all over the United States” who had no interest in relocating companies to Sarasota because of the years-long process of getting land rezoned for their needs and then going through the site and development and permitting processes. “It was longer in the past,” Maio added of that timeline, “and it’s still very long now [to accomplish that work].”
“I frankly don’t see anything wrong with creating … a new zoning category for Business Park,” Maio told his colleagues. “We need to change some of our nomenclature, if nothing else.”
The commission can authorize county staff to work on a Unified Development Code amendment outside of the two annual cycles for such initiatives, Maio pointed out. “I can’t think of a more appropriate [initiative out of cycle],” he added.