From the CEO

Efforts to build local workforce pipeline are paying off in Manatee County | Indicators

By Sharon Hillstrom -

Special to the Herald-Tribune

August 28, 2023

At the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corporation, marketing our community as a business location is one of our core functions. Corporate decision makers tell us that the quality of education and relevant workforce training are key to their business location and expansion decisions.

That’s why we are focused on how the talent pipeline – our future workforce – is being educated, trained and developed locally. The news is encouraging. From pre-K to college, students are being prepared for the modern workforce and the well-paying careers available in Manatee County and our region.

Let’s start with early learning. Studies show that the most crucial years of learning take place before a child is old enough to enter school. And if a child is not a proficient reader by the end of third grade, that child is much less likely to succeed in school and in the workforce.

In Manatee County, a program called Soar in 4 gives parents the skills and materials to help them become their young child’s first and best literacy teacher. Soar in 4 is funded by private donations and community sources. It is not tax supported or funded by the School District of Manatee County. You can learn more about the program and its impact on children and families at

Once a child is school age, starting as early as kindergarten, Manatee County schools offer unparalleled opportunities for students to learn technologies and skills that will prepare them for today’s – and tomorrow’s – workforce.

Robotics is a prime example. Manatee County is one of the only school districts in the state to offer hands-on robotics education in K-12 and beyond. Manatee County schools continue to expand successful programs and increase students’ levels of expertise. In fact, this year 46 students and their advisers competed in the 2023 VEX Robotics World Championship in Dallas.

In addition to the impressive offerings in elementary, middle and high schools, Manatee Technical College continues the pathway with numerous certification programs that help students quickly gain proficiency and land well-paying jobs.

One example is Global Logistics and Supply Chain Technology, which is provided in partnership with major retail chains that recognize the value in developing our workforce. The program incorporates technologies, including robotics, that are increasingly used in the industry.

State College of Florida Manatee-Sarasota also is part of the pathway, partnering with a local business to bring a specialized robotic machine to SCF’s Coding Academy so students gain hands-on, real world experience with the technology.

Another example of developing our own talent pipeline relates to the aviation and aerospace industry, and cultivating a sector ecosystem in the Bradenton area.

In the 2024-25 school year, the first cohort of students should be on a unique campus at the Sarasota Bradenton International Airport. The new Aviation Maintenance Training school at SRQ will prepare students for Federal Aviation Administration licenses in airframe and aircraft powerplant maintenance. It’s a partnership between the airport, the School District of Manatee County, Manatee Technical College and Suncoast Technical College. This program is becoming a major selling point in our conversations with aviation-related businesses considering a Bradenton-area location.

Another key component to the ecosystem is developing programs in aviation-focused business and management as well as aerospace engineering at the University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee campus.

The more we learn about what our educational institutions are accomplishing in partnership with local businesses, philanthropists and others, the more excited we become about building the talent pipeline in the Bradenton area. Follow us on social media for frequent updates as we collaborate with and support this vital effort.

Sharon Hillstrom is president and chief executive officer of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. ( She may be contacted at or 803-9036.

Contact Lauren

Lauren Kratsch

Lauren Kratsch

Senior Director Business Relations

Assistance for Local Companies Seeking to Export

Getting started and overcoming obstacles – The EDC’s partnership with the U.S. Commercial Service will help your business start off on the right foot. If you already are frustrated by previous attempts to export, the EDC and its partners will help you get on track.

Expanding your markets – Working with Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development agency, we assist local businesses connect with state-sponsored trade missions to foreign countries. Looking to ship by sea? The EDC experts at Port Manatee provide advice and access to global business relationships.

Grants and financing – Federal and state programs may be available to help reduce the cost of exporting your goods or services.

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