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Business Observer Friday, Jan. 21, 2011 7 years ago

The Big DEAL

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Organizers hope a new 72,000-square-foot facility will make it easier for businesses looking to relocate to, or expand in, the Manatee-Sarasota area.

After just eight weeks of planning, an economic development center will be built in Lakewood Ranch.


The State College of Florida, Sarasota-Manatee, Lakewood Ranch developer Schroeder-Manatee Ranch and the Gulf Coast Community Foundation of Venice on Jan. 18 announced they have joined forces to create a one-of-a-kind economic initiative meant to bolster the local economy and make it easier to do business in the area.


Called the Design & Economic Acceleration Lab, or DEAL, the 72,000-square-foot facility will be part of SCF. Construction costs are estimated at $14.2 million for the building, and SCF will fund the project through bonds and other sources, SCF President Lars Hafner says.


“The DEAL is a major advancement for SCF as we continue to create a new model of education expansive enough to include a charter middle and high school to associate and baccalaureate workforce degrees,” Hafner says. “Through this collaboration center, SCF will have even more community impact with added focus on regional prosperity and needed workforce education and training.”


Although both Sarasota and Manatee counties have resources available to businesses through their economic development groups and chambers of commerce, there currently is no facility at which all those agencies can serve a prospective business under one roof, SMR President and CEO Rex Jensen says. Instead, inquiring businesses often must shuffle between agencies to find what incentives or other options are available in the area.


Once completed, DEAL will offer a variety of resources to the business community, including meeting space and guidance to conduct strategic planning sessions, as well as a GIS database of all land for rent or lease in the area.


“Its purpose is to be a resource for economic development organizations and for companies coming to the area or seeking to expand in the area,” Jensen says. “It will be a much more interactive source of information. This place is intended to be all about economic development.


“We intend to go after this in a very aggressive fashion,” he says. “I'm tired of seeing people unemployed.”


Plans also include a University Partnership Center modeled after the center at St. Petersburg College, which provides partnerships with colleges and universities through educational programs and an interactive hub for delivering instruction, among other tools.


“We thought, 'Why not apply that to economic development, not just academia?'” Jensen says.


Building features include space for economic development offices from the two-county area, CareerEdge, the Lakewood Ranch Business Alliance, University Partnership Center and SCF administrative staff, including DEAL facilitators.


The DEAL campus will be located on a 150-acre parcel six miles east of Interstate 75, where organizers had planned to construct the $110 million Springbok Sports Club and Academy.


“It's my goal to, and I think (SCF, Manatee-Sarasota President) Lars (Hafners' goal), to take SCF to a full four-year institution,” Jensen says. “To do that, you need available property.


“The Springbok plan had many of the attributes a college campus has,” he says. “That one was already blessed by (Manatee County commissioners).”


Jensen said he would make a total of about 300 acres available to SCF for purchase. The property also could be home to a charter high school, Jensen says.


“To me, it just fits Lakewood Ranch, and Lakewood Ranch fits it,” Jensen says of DEAL. “This is exactly the type of lift we want.”


Jensen could not say when SMR would break ground on the project but predicted it would be soon. Organizers hope to have the facility completed within 18 months.


— Pam Eubanks, contributing writer

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