BY SHARON HILLSTROM
This year, our team at the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. will conduct over 100 in-person visits to Manatee County businesses and will have more than 400 direct interactions with companies in our community.
That doesn’t include events, committee meetings and leadership discussions where we learn what local businesses need to continue to flourish in Manatee County.
While some details vary, of course, the most consistent concern across all industries and sizes of organizations is workforce. Businesses, especially those requiring high-skill technical positions, are challenged to find the talent they need. This is a national trend that has communities looking for ways to attract and retain professionals, especially younger workers who have a lifetime of productive employment ahead of them.
The EDC’s role in this is many-fold. Collaborating with the area’s workforce board, colleges and universities, we are working on education, training, internships, and apprenticeships to plug young adults into local career opportunities before they graduate. We’re supporting strategies to create attainable housing for workers. And we encourage events and community development that create a stronger and more attractive sense of place that will attract potential employees – young and not-so-young, alike.
Even beyond these strategies, though, we’ve learned that a vital element that can be missing without intentional action is forging a sense of emotional attachment to the community.
Knight Soul of the Community (SOTC) is a three-year study conducted by Gallup of the 26 John S. and James L. Knight Foundation communities across the United States, including Bradenton. The study sought to determine factors that attach residents to their communities and the role of community attachment in an area’s economic growth and well-being. The study focused on the emotional side of the connection between residents and their communities.
Researchers analyzed the connection between community attachment and economic growth and found that cities with the highest levels of attachment had the highest rate of growth in Gross Domestic Product.
Of the 10 elements, the researchers found contributed to community attachment, three stood out:
- Aesthetics – physical beauty and green spaces
- Social offerings – opportunities for social interaction and citizen caring
- Openness/welcomeness – how welcoming the community is to different people
Manatee County is making strides here, but we can certainly do more to protect and improve these attributes.
If you’ve been following the work of the nonprofit, Realize Bradenton, in the city’s downtown – the Riverwalk, the Blues Festival, the Farmers’ Market – you can see how our community is leveraging the findings of the SOTC study to create a sense of place.
Even more, Bradenton is becoming a national showcase for nurturing community attachment. Realize Bradenton reaches about 300 millennials in its programs, and the Riverwalk East Expansion project has a team of four millennials leading intergenerational design teams.
Once you are emotionally connected to a community, it is much more difficult to leave. Engage people in creating the community’s future, and they will form attachments that last a lifetime.
To learn more about the Knight Soul of the Community study, visit https://knightfoundation.org/sotc/.