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Keep on keeping on

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  • | 11:00 a.m. May 19, 2017
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Mark Huey, the executive in charge of the Sarasota organization responsible for recruiting and retaining businesses, has often told people “someday we are going to get our Hertz.”

The president and CEO of the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County, Huey is referring to the car rental giant, which moved its corporate headquarters from New Jersey to Lee County in 2013. The then Fortune 300 company's relocation, to Estero, was considered a major economic development coup for the region and the state — and it came with 700 promised jobs. The move included more than $15 million in state and Lee County incentives, in addition to a commitment from Hertz to invest nearly $70 million in a new facility.

Huey and other economic development organization officials in the region lament that now, with Enterprise Florida's budget slashed, landing a Hertz goes from a long shot to an impossible dream. Enterprise Florida, the agency that woos businesses to the state, is primed to get no more than $16 million in the 2017-2018 state budget, a significant drop from past years. And just as important as the decrease in funds, adds Huey, is site location officials nationwide know Florida is pretty much out of the equation now for big-time corporate relocations.

“This is the reality we live in now,” Huey says. “We just need to recognize that we won't look at those projects where the state won't partner with us.”

To Huey, that's the kind of company that will add hundreds of jobs and cement Sarasota on the national scene with a big win. (Hertz, of course, might not be the best comparison with the benefit of hindsight, given the company's recent accounting issues and slide in revenue and share price. Despite the issues, the company remains one of Lee County's largest employers.)

Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. President and CEO Sharon Hillstrom says her agency's strategy has long been to put together a lot of singles, not necessarily swing for a big homerun. So the Enterprise Florida budget shortfall, while a general concern for the message it sends nationally, isn't going to derail the Bradenton Area EDC's mission by a large extent.

“Every single project and every single company we work with is important,” Hillstrom tells Coffee Talk. “You have to be realistic about the assets you have and what's realistic for you to attract.”

Both Huey and Hillstrom agree on two points: county and regional economic development organizations are going to become more important than ever, and the work these groups do to help businesses already here will be critical. “We will have to do a better job closing on the opportunities we do have,” Huey says.

Hillstrom says the Bradenton Area EDC, among other projects, plans to continue emphasizing its efforts to connect business leaders with education and civic officials, with a goal toward building a better workforce. “If we don't have a skilled workforce, and an education system aligned with the business community,” asks Hillstrom, “then what the heck are we recruiting businesses for?”

(This story was updated to reflect the full correct name of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp.)


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