Move comes as organization faces scrutiny from some public officials.
SARASOTA — The Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County, a week after county commissioners approved a proposal to phase out funding for the organization, has named a new interim CEO.
Lisa Krouse, who recently retired from an executive position at Lakewood Ranch-based FCCI Insurance Group, was named interim CEO of the EDC. She will start July 1, according to a statement, replacing interim CEO Dave Bullock. Bullock, former Longboat Key town manager, was named interim CEO in December 2019, replacing previous EDC leader Mark Huey, who had resigned.
“The EDC’s sole focus is to help grow and diversify the economy of Sarasota County,” Bullock says in the statement. “It's been humbling to serve the past year and half, knowing almost 1,500 businesses were helped and thousands of local workers kept their jobs due in part to the work done at the EDC. I know the community is appreciative of these efforts.”
Krouse, formerly executive vice president and chief administrative officer at FCCI, where she remains on the company’s board, had been the incoming chair of the EDC’s board. She instead resigned from the EDC Board, according to the statement, and moved into the interim CEO role, as she has been working closely with Bullock.
“We will be focused on the strategic direction and future of the EDC, working with our board, community stakeholders and diverse business community,” Krouse says in the release. “There have been many local leaders who have made a major investment in the EDC and we want to see that this important work continues.”
Krouse says she will immediately convene an expanded transition team tasked with establishing the strategic plan for the EDC. “I appreciate the commitment the board has extended to this organization and I am looking forward to their help in facilitating a successful transition,” Krouse says.
“We’re fortunate that someone as capable as Lisa Krouse is willing to step up at this important moment for the EDC,” adds EDC Chairman Charlie Murphy in the statement. “We’ll need a steady hand for the changes moving forward and she offers just that.”
Krouse says she will stay on as long as needed to support the board and the EDC’s function.
Krouse’s appointment comes as the EDC faces a county commission that essentially, by a 3-2 vote, made a move to defund the organization. Sarasota County Commissioner Mike Moran, who brought forth the proposal, which includes redirecting the county’s local business tax to the county’s general fund budget, has long criticized the effectiveness of the EDC. His proposal, voted on at a June 8 meeting, rolls back EDC funding beginning in fiscal year 2022 and phases out funding totally by the end of fiscal 2024. If the EDC shows proven growth and metrics over the next year, commissioners could restore funding.
The EDC was established as an independent agency in 2004 with the goal of sustaining and growing businesses in Sarasota County. However, Moran says that in the past five years, EDC leaders have failed to provide metrics that demonstrate the success of its programs.
“This has been going on for years. It didn’t just spring up. This wasn’t a rash decision on my part,” Moran said at the meeting. “From the very beginning, all I’ve ever asked for is clear, measurable goals. I made it very clear that I wanted less words on paper and more numbers on an Excel spreadsheet.”
Moran proposed the county would remain a dues-paying member of the EDC and could choose to support certain incentives; it just wouldn’t divert taxes to it. In fiscal year 2021, the EDC’s $1.7 million budget included $1.07 million in public funding.
Multiple business, civic and chamber leaders opposed the commission’s move, which included Moran saying he’d like to see funds from the economic development incentive fund be used to support a special mental healthcare district.
Bullock says that would pit mental health services against economic development — when the county could still viably have both programs.
“Sarasota County is a sophisticated community with a rich history of addressing complex community priorities in responsible ways,” Bullock said. “This false choice put forth in this motion does not pass the standard of good governance or good community decision making.”