The Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County doesn’t create jobs; we make it easier for businesses to create jobs here.
And this task may be more imperative now than ever.
The COVID-induced recession has pounded the local economy, but affected Sarasota County businesses and industries unevenly. While some of the bigger sectors have been hit hard, some smaller sectors have thrived, revealing the ongoing need for diversifying the economy — a primary goal of the EDC.
Manufacturing, warehouse and distribution, and life sciences are among the local sectors that have been thriving during the pandemic’s shutdowns. Some local life sciences companies say they have seen ten-fold increases in demand for their products. Further, manufacturing in general has benefitted as a result of rejiggering supply chains nationally and globally due to national shutdowns in supplying countries, particularly China. The local logistics and distribution sector was already growing rapidly due to the “Amazon effect” of online buying. Now COVID has sped up the need for more last-mile distribution facilities.
But those hit hardest by the shutdowns around the country are pillars of the local economy — tourism, hospitality and retail. These are far from recovering still, enduring a disproportionately negative impact from the COVID shutdowns. While Florida experienced minimal shutdown time, those industries are dependent on travel from states under long-term shutdowns.
Because the industries thriving are smaller, while the ones hurt the most are our biggest, our vulnerability to big economic swings remains a challenge. Diversifying the local economy by making it easier for the more resilient industries such as life sciences, manufacturing, distribution and other industries to thrive and create good jobs remains the priority.
In that, the shutdowns also are presenting an opportunity. There is the question of whether entrepreneurs will continue to start businesses in New York, New Jersey, Michigan, Illinois and elsewhere when they don’t know if they will even be allowed to operate. Florida’s more open-for-business atmosphere and existing low taxes and regulations will create a strong draw for businesses to the state.
Indeed, the EDC’s pipeline reflects this. The pipeline includes retention and attraction projects at various stages in the process. The EDC’s primary role in all of the pipeline projects — companies looking to expand here or come here — is to facilitate having them here by knocking down hurdles for each project as they come up.
Total projects in the pipeline at the moment are 54. These represent the potential for more than 2,700 jobs and a capital investment of $264 million. Nineteen of those 54 projects are business retention or expansion of local firms, representing 671 jobs and $109 million in capital investment, while 35 projects are business attraction, representing about 2,100 jobs and $155 million in capital investment.
These circumstances present Sarasota County with the opportunity to diversify with resilient industries while also providing pathways for displaced service workers to take advantage of programs that offer quick, nimble retraining and transitional options — particularly during recessions.
South County will play an increasing role in fulfilling projects in some of the most important industries for diversifying our economy. North Port and Venice both have well-zoned properties that can fit some of the types of projects in the pipeline, which will provide long-term benefits to the communities.