BY SHARON HILLSTROM

Five years ago, the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. unveiled our multi-year “Build Bradenton Area Plan” to expand economic opportunities for Manatee County residents and established businesses.

We introduced an exciting, visionary approach to realizing Manatee County’s economic development potential. We pledged to work with our network of partner agencies and community leaders to guide our community to the next level as a location for companies to relocate or expand.

Our ultimate goal was – and still is – to forge a more diverse and prosperous local economy that supports a desirable quality of life.

We understood that creating a plan and implementing it are two very different things, but we noted that this is a town of doers. When our community is presented with a challenge or an opportunity, people come together. They roll up their sleeves, figure out a plan, execute it, and get it done.

I am proud to report that this time was no exception. Over the past five years, we met or exceeded nearly all of the goals in the strategic plan and are moving forward with “Version 2.0,” targeting three areas with strong potential for economic growth: the sports performance industry, life sciences, and entrepreneurship.

Recapping our results from the past five years, we won 72 relocations and expansions, compared to our goal of 55. Projected capital investment by those businesses exceeds $526 million, compared to our $460 million goal.

We undershot our goal for job creation, achieving 3,273 new jobs, compared to the projected 4,102, but many of the new jobs pay higher wages than anticipated. We believe that trend is likely to continue. Technologies for communication, collaboration and automation are allowing employers to do more with fewer, higher-skilled employees that may work on-site or remotely.

Going forward, we believe that focusing on sports performance, life sciences, and entrepreneurship will accelerate business growth and job opportunities in Manatee County.

The sports performance industry, which we identified in 2009, already has tremendous impact on our local economy. With IMG Academy as a centerpiece, the Bradenton area is attracting major events like the WNBA season, as well as businesses involved in sports performance research and product development.

We recently announced a new initiative with Orange Sports Forum Foundation – the national body for sports and sports business development in The Netherlands – to host a business delegation and soccer team in Manatee County in April 2021. More than a dozen sports-related businesses from The Netherlands are expected to participate, and IMG Academy will provide training and competition venues and services for the visiting soccer team.

Creating a nexus for life sciences businesses in Manatee County is another strategic priority for the next five years. The Brain Health Initiative, which is based at Lakewood Ranch, has exciting potential to attract additional research and product development related to brain health. The BHI is a collaborative effort of Massachusetts General Hospital, a Harvard Medical School Teaching Hospital, and the Academy for Brain Health and Performance.

Entrepreneurship – growing our own pipeline of new businesses – also holds great promise for our local economy. We’re excited about the prospect of working with State College of Florida, Manatee-Sarasota, to foster great ideas into commercially viable businesses through the Center for Advanced Technology & Innovation. The building is scheduled to open in spring of 2021.

Reflecting on the results the Bradenton Area EDC has delivered to the community over the past five years, we recognize that our progress is a testament to the wisdom and forward thinking of our leadership, the unwavering support of our private investors and public partners, and the collective abilities of our collaborative network throughout the region.

That combination will continue to deliver results for our community in the years ahead. To receive periodic updates on our progress, please sign up at www.BradentonAreaEDC.com/Updates.