Over the past several years, the Sarasota area, much like all of Florida, has experienced major disruptions, including reduced road funding from the Florida Department of Transportation smart growth, workforce housing shortages, coupled with major storm damage. These dynamics have made the Sarasota County business climate increasingly difficult for companies to generate a profit; compounding challenges include increased property taxes, skyrocketing property insurance rates; and finding affordable health insurance while dealing with higher land costs, to name a few.
The financial challenges, regulatory constraints, and international competition that exist for local business and its customer base, and the growing need to develop “high skill, high wage” jobs, are now of major concern to the Chamber’s 2,400 members. Immediate challenges range from having enough available sites for commercial and industrial development; to having adequate transportation services, to provide much-needed affordable housing, and sustaining a well trained, highly motivated workforce.
“Sarasota Tomorrow” is the Chamber’s answer to bring together businesses and organizations (public and private) in a common cause - to plan, finance and implement a partnership to achieve critical economic objectives. The overall goal is to ensure continuing regional prosperity and economic vitality for all those who live, work and play in Sarasota County for generations to come.
Recent feedback from local employers reports that now more than ever they feel the area’s business climate is currently less business-friendly. Given pressures on public entities and competing interests, it may well take a major and on-going new effort to stem the tide of increasing fees, regulations and development restrictions. It is the Chamber’s belief that the members of the Chamber deserve the best service possible, as they have been paying taxes and providing jobs across our community for decades. Implementation of “Sarasota Tomorrow” will allow area leaders to work in partnership for “common-cause” through planning, acting and investing together.
A Five-Year Strategic Initiative Action Plan
Pro-Business/Pro-Sarasota Government Affairs Initiatives
Sarasota Tomorrow…will increase impact on policy affecting economic viability and vitality of area through organizing and rallying the business community’s voice and influence, targeting lobbying programs, and direct involvement in government and regulatory processes.
Expand the Chamber’s “Where We Stand” portfolio of public policy positions annually to cover all priority business and economic development issues.
Retain by March, 2008, professional lobbyists to represent local business interests in Tallahassee and Washington, D.C.
Execute Tallahassee and Washington, D.C. Fly-Ins at least annually to advocate for business and community issues.
Recruit, train, and support business persons and business-minded individuals to serve on key governmental advisory boards and commissions and/or to run for elected office.
Strategically lobby for transportation, fair and viable taxes, technology, arts/culture/beach/red tide funds, and education and workforce programs.
Monitor and report annually on the impact on business of area Comprehensive Plans and other key governmental regulations and plans.
Expand the Annual Sarasota County Legislative Agenda and create Annual Sarasota Legislative Report Cards, and promote these at all levels of government and to the business and general community alike.
Total Five-Year Investment - $300,000
Improving the Area’s Business Climate
Sarasota Tomorrow…will promote, via positive and productive interaction between local, state, and federal government and our business community, a business-friendly economic environment. It will execute initiatives that develop and maintain a positive business climate that maximizes the competitiveness of greater Sarasota and its diverse employers.
Create, by the end of 2007, new avenues for business input and leadership in protecting business-friendly elements of our operating environment.
Work with Florida and U.S. Chambers, the Florida Chamber Federation, and other groups for action protecting the state’s constitution, promoting fairer insurance, avoiding burdensome mandates, protection from frivolous lawsuits, and the “hometown democracy” scam.
Expand and strengthen the Coalition of Business Organizations (COBA) to carry forward the top five recommendations on improving the areas business climate.
Create and promote favorable ballot initiatives and amendments to City and County Charters/oppose those detrimental to growth and current employers.
Implement business – government partnership forums on a quarterly basis.
Act as liaison between different units and levels of governments to expedite business objectives.
Total Five-Year Investment - $250,000
Business Retention and Targeted Assistance
Sarasota Tomorrow…will initiate and expand efforts to help employers address roadblocks and access new opportunities that increases the retention and expansion of area companies, including, but not limited to, those that have high probability of new employment growth.
Develop (or hire an expert firm) a new Sarasota County Targeted Business Assistance Program for area business and industry to provide value-added programs that assist a wide range of companies.
Obtain and utilize the Synchronist business retention software system to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats facing the greater Sarasota region. (Synchronist is the leading BRE tool used today.)
Implement an Existing Employer VIP (host quarterly luncheons) initiative to uncover the issues facing or limiting the success of area companies.
Survey the existing business base annually to identify what opportunities exist to reduce economic “leakage” by catalyzing the purchase of goods and services from local, rather than out-of-town firms.
Conduct up to100 follow-up visits annually to existing businesses identified by the survey in each category to determine individual needs and specific reasons for doing business in greater Sarasota.
Provide economic intelligence to government and business partners, and the community at large, on a semi-annual basis.
Total Five-Year Investment - $350,000
Critical Infrastructure and Community Development
Sarasota Tomorrow…will enhance and position our market area as a world-class business location by addressing priority infrastructure issues. Community assets that have served greater Sarasota well, such as tourist attractors and local arts/cultural resources, will be strongly supported as more and more business investment decisions are based on quality of life factors.
Execute transportation and transit development strategies:
RTA – Regional Transportation Authority – ensures that Sarasota is a visible, viable, and effective participant in the new Tampa Bay Area Regional Transportation Authority being created July, 2007.
Improve the financing and delivery of essential area road projects by playing a stronger role with the County, MPO, FDOT, and pursuing greater area inclusion in Florida’s SIS – Strategic Intermodal System.
Lobby for funding for specific, prioritized projects at the state and Federal levels, with tactics including professional lobbyists/consultants
Accelerate the construction of, and improvements of U.S. 301, U.S. 41,
I-75, interchanges to I-75, and other top priorities.
Institute FAM, or Familiarization, visits in which state and Federal decision-makers are brought to Sarasota to be thanked for past support and shown critical current and future capitalization needs.
Provide airport and general aviation support, focused on fostering increased passenger and freight “lift” usage to and from SRQ.
Increase Workforce Housing & Impact Land Use Policy
Expand incentives such as density bonuses and expedited permitting
Increase Revolving Loan Fund for down payment assistance from $1,000,000 to $2,000,000.
Create special programs and technical assistance for employer-assisted housing efforts, including semi-annual programs: “Step by Step Models for Creating Employer-Assisted Housing Programs.”
Protect and/or increase Major Employment Center zoned land
Create web-site pages/information that expedites workers housing searches, with links to all assistance programs.
Support critical redevelopment projects in areas including those surrounding the central business district and north Sarasota/Newtown.
Cultural District and Major Attraction Projects – Utilize blue ribbon Cultural Park Task Force to create means for the City to finance and implement the 42 acre bay-front cultural district; pursue conference and athletic facilities.
Develop and promote business infrastructure needs assessment annually.
Foster community and expert “round-table discussions” quarterly concerning pressing issues such as…workforce housing, labor recruitment, infrastructure and reducing business overhead costs.
Total Five-Year Investment - $450,000
Workforce Development and Education
Sarasota Tomorrow...will build intellectual capital in the region. We will provide leadership, direction and business involvement for educational and workplace improvement for the development of the current and future workforce.
Create and support initiatives and partnerships that positively impact the market area’s K-12 and post-secondary education. To deal with this era of unprecedented labor shortages, add business services in workforce recruitment, training/development, and retention.
Deliver services via the Center for Workforce Innovation, being launched by April 1, 2008. The “CWI” will disseminate training and technological solutions to human resource challenges, drawing on resources of the Florida Agency for Workforce Innovation, the U.S. Chamber Center for Workforce Preparation, and other resources and experts.
Interface with business/industry groups in the community to attract and retain an innovative talent pool within the following industry clusters: healthcare, manufacturing, hospitality, technology, education, seniors and small businesses.
Partner to enhance the community-wide workforce development plan that unites business, training and education. Establish a “CONNECT Council” by April, 2008 to address Challenge Strategies in the 21st Century Workforce Study.
Facilitate the delivery of industry-specific training programs as needed and further the use of such resources locally by proactively linking area educational institutions and local industry.
Develop a “CEO Adopt a Principal” program to better link business and education as well as CEO mentoring of Principals and to strengthen discussions about real world business employee needs/skills coming out of H.S. with a goal of 75 matches by year-end 2008.
Create community-wide program of student and teacher internships.
Populate school strategic planning and advisory committees with business people.
Create new mechanisms to guide school curriculum and students of all ages toward skills and jobs in demand thereby reducing drop-out rates.
Total Five-Year Investment - $400,000
Small Business Development and the Small Business Resource Center
Sarasota Tomorrow…will promote programs that catalyze entrepreneurs’ and going concerns’ success. Stimulate, grow, and diversify the local economy through business start-up assistance and initiatives that help smaller enterprises profit and expand. Create new Small Business Resource Center resources by June of 2008. Design and launch minority business development and venture capital expansion strategies.
Create Institute for Business Start-Ups to serve 100 potential entrepreneurs’ per quarter, resulting in 50 new firms and new jobs over a five year period.
Initiate Minority Business Development Institute/Center that leverages growing entrepreneurship across our community.
Expand Small Business Resource Center to include/offer on-line educational web cast and Pod cast programming.
Perform outreach and technical services to locally owned firms with the greatest economic multiplier effect potential.
Capitalize on the growing interest in the International Business Council by linking with area economic development professionals to foster international investment locally.
Review business incentives and enticement plans in conjunction with which City and County Governments and provide improvement recommendations on a bi-annually basis.
Create and operate a one-stop permitting and government assistance center by June 2008 staffed by an ombudsperson to assist with regulatory processes, permitting and other issues to streamline the entire process.
Total Five-Year Investment - $450,000
Develop Regional Strategies and Inter-City Visitation Best Practice Programs
Sarasota Tomorrow…will develop multiple regional alliances and partnership efforts. Sarasota has the strengths that accrue to independent cities in the context of a major metropolitan area. Along with its superb waterfront, the city lives larger than it is with art, music, theater and cultural amenities that are the envy of the region and the state. However, the larger challenges that the community faces: transportation & congestion, insufficient workforce housing, red tide, rising costs of doing business and the need for a skilled workforce, require regional coordination and intergovernmental action. Depending on one’s perspective, Sarasota is either well-positioned or lost between two west Florida regions – Tampa Bay to the north and southwest Florida to the south.
Sarasota-centric strategic alliances among our adjacent counties (Charlotte, Manatee, Desoto and Sarasota) will be built to strengthen our position with each of the larger regions.
Additional partnerships will be initiated to strengthen support for our culture & recreational facilities throughout the region (symphony, performing arts, baseball & hospitality)
A Greater Sarasota Chamber Transportation Strategic Action Team will improve regional cooperation to merge Sarasota & Manatee transit operations and speak with one voice at the new Tampa Bay Area Regional Transit Authority.
Via participation in the “Educational Alliance”, the Chamber will capitalize on our higher education facilities (USF-Sarasota-Manatee; New College; Ringling College of Art & Design) to develop a U.S. 41 corridor that showcases education, museums & the performing arts.
A new multi-county legislative agenda for our mini-region will be championed, in part by hiring or sharing lobbyists to work for it in Tallahassee.
An “Intercity Visit Program” to build our team and learn about and experience best practices in other cities, will be in place starting in 2008.
This will allow us to learn about and experience best and worst practices, initiatives and then implement those ideas back home in Sarasota.
Total Five-Year Investment - $150,000
Develop Community Understanding and Support for the Role and Economic Importance of the Business Community
Sarasota, like the rest of Florida, has had steady growth for many years. A growth punctuated by real estate speculation and a spike in high-rise residential construction and single-family home construction and condo conversions. This coupled with rising costs of insurance and property value increases caused an “anti-growth” sentiment to emerge. This is evident in “polls” and at the polls. Unfortunately there are spillovers that create opposition to business growth, support increased fees on business and contribute to declining confidence in our business climate. The Chamber must take the lead in concert with other business and community groups to reverse this trend.
Voter attitude polling to determine the best approaches to creating public/community-wide support for a dynamic business community
Conduct community forums where best practices from other areas are shared
Develop and execute major community education/public information campaign about the importance of business and the critical role employers play in the health of a viable and vibrant community
Develop a community vision and balanced growth standards that area coalitions can and will support
Support positive and oppose negative ballot initiatives
DeWanda Smith-Soeder – Smith-Soeder Enterprises, Inc.
Dr. Larry Thompson – Ringling School of Art and Design
Pamela Truitt – Truitt Consulting, Inc.
James Turner – Williams, Parker, Harrison, Dietz & Getzen
Tom Waters – The Community Foundation of Sarasota County
Nevin Weiner – Nevin A. Weiner, PA
Lee Wetherington - Lee Wetherington Companies
Oversight and Governance
The Board of Directors and program investors will guide and monitor the five-year “Sarasota Tomorrow” initiative. The Board will be accountable for the programs implementation, management, oversight and disbursement of funds. Investors will receive timely communiqués, updates on program successes, briefings, program progress reports, and invitations to key program event. They will be recognized throughout the five-year initiative, accordingly.
Through the “Sarasota Tomorrow” initiative, the Chamber will work aggressively toward assisting business meet difficult challenges, strengthening our community’s competitiveness, and creating new jobs and economic growth benefiting the entire community – and both the Public and Private Sectors, because rising tides raise all ships and new dollars see no sector or geographic boundaries – we all benefit. A successfully implemented “Sarasota Tomorrow” initiative will generate short and long-term benefits for those who live and work across the area, just some of those benefits include:
Higher quality jobs with an improved per capita income.
Stable and growing tax base for public services such as our schools, Hospital, Police and Fire Dept’s, roads and other infrastructure needs and so much more…
A safe, friendly and inviting place to work and live and raise children
New market opportunities for existing businesses, adding to their profit base.
Projections of strengths and potential vulnerabilities of existing investments that have been made by businesses and homeowners
New cadre of individuals becoming engaged in building a prosperous Sarasota.
Retaining our unparalleled quality of life for all our following generations.
Quality jobs for our children when they complete their education.
By aggressively preparing for the future today, marketing our unique attributes and building a more fertile business climate, The Greater Sarasota area will excel at being the location, which is great for business and great for life. Communities are either moving forward, or they are in decline. Your Chamber asks that you join with us as we collectively move Sarasota County forward, and to even greater prosperity. Nothing must be left to chance. The time to think, act and plan for our future is NOW!
________________________________________________________________________Sarasota Tomorrow; A Five-Year Community and Economic Prosperity Plan for Sarasota County