BY SHARON HILLSTROM
Regardless of the final score when the Pittsburgh Pirates take on the Phillies at LECOM Park today, the Buccos are perennial winners in our book. The organization is celebrating a 50-year relationship with Bradenton that has brought substantial benefit to our community’s economy and quality of life.
Consider that Pirates Spring Training alone generates more than $36 million annually in local economic impact. Add to that the ballclub’s year-round Minor League training operations, the Bradenton Marauders season and hosted tournament business, and the number continues to climb. At last count, the Pirates had some 70 full-time employees based in Manatee County.
The Pirates are an “anchor” business in the region’s sports performance industry, a sector of our local economy that holds great promise for job growth and business investment.
The Bradenton Area Economic Development Corporation (EDC) began to focus the community on sports performance in 2009 when we brought together several key players in the industry for conversations about shared challenges and regional opportunities. Examples include the Pirates, IMG Academy, Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex, and Premier Sports Campus at Lakewood Ranch, to name a few.
Since then, we commissioned an analysis of existing assets and opportunities related to the sector and have shaped a targeted marketing program to recruit additional sports performance businesses and jobs.
We’ve identified more than 50 businesses in Manatee County alone (not counting those in adjacent counties) related to sports performance. These are businesses that research and develop products, others that supply products and services to sports venues and professional teams, and more.
The analysis forecasts that sports performance businesses already in Manatee County will add 14 percent more jobs over the next five years. That makes it potentially one of the fastest growing job sectors in the region.
An intriguing aspect of the sports performance industry is research and development of related products – sports equipment and training devices, for example – as well as health sciences around athletic performance and nutrition.
As the City of Bradenton and the Pirates, among others in the community, consider the future for the area surrounding LECOM Park, their awareness of this industry’s potential will be part of the conversation. Perhaps a business incubator for sports product research and development could fit into the plan, in addition to a lively entertainment district connecting the ballpark to the Village of the Arts and downtown.
The Bradenton area has an excellent shot at recruiting more businesses related to sports performance, according to national site consultant Kevin McGowan. He visited the area last fall to attend the World Rowing Championships at Nathan Benderson Park.
“As a site selector, I would think that sports management businesses – whether equipment-, treatment- or training-related – would find the (Manatee-Sarasota) region a great place to do business,” McGowan said. “Florida has a highly favorable tax climate that makes it very attractive to do business. Add the nearby beaches and quality of life, and you have a real asset that is an easy sell.”
So, the next time you drive past LECOM Park or take in a ballgame there, you’ll know it’s not only an iconic ballpark. It’s a symbol of the value that the sports performance industry brings to our community, and the EDC is aggressively pursuing development of this promising sector.