BY SHARON HILLSTROM
I’m speaking at the Manatee Chamber of Commerce planning retreat next month where the theme will be “legacy,” so I’m taking a deep dive into what legacy means in a community and how economic development contributes.
Legacy can be either a gift or a curse; it’s something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor from the past.
Manatee County is home to numerous “legacy” businesses – Tropicana and Bealls Inc., for example – that have helped to shape our community and continue to contribute through employment, charitable giving and capital investment.
At the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. (EDC), we’re a young business, but it’s not too early in our history to think about how we are shaping a legacy through economic development.
The EDC began in 1976 as the Manatee Economic Development Council, a division of the Chamber. In 2011, with the full support of Chamber leadership – including its long-time president, the late Bob Bartz – the EDC spun off as an independent nonprofit corporation.
Since then, we rebranded to become the Bradenton Area EDC and created a multi-year strategic plan that is now in the third year of implementation. As we work through the initiatives included in the “Build Bradenton Area Plan”, the EDC’s legacy is taking shape.
First, it’s a legacy of results that benefit Manatee County residents and our quality of life. We are doing that by helping businesses deliver more and better jobs, attracting inbound capital investment, and fostering a more sustainable economy that is less dependent on cyclical industries.
One metric we use to gauge our effectiveness is economic impact of businesses we’ve assisted as calculated by Manatee County Government. Since 2009, we’ve assisted with 66 corporate relocation and expansion projects in partnership with the county. Over the next several years, those businesses are forecasted to add 4,271 jobs generating more than $2 billion in wages. Capital investment by those companies is projected to be over $500 million.
And those are just the businesses tracked by the county; we have worked with many more.
Our legacy also is one of leadership. We are stepping up to convene leaders from across our community – in education, business, government and workforce development – to identify challenges and opportunities, and then take action.
We are conducting industry roundtable discussions where business leaders meet with educators, workforce development professionals and government officials. Area colleges and universities are connecting with employers to accelerate internship programs. Businesses are learning about workforce development programs to support their growth. Educators are seeing opportunities to collaborate on degree programs that benefit students and employers.
Ours is also a legacy of collaboration. We remain open to other points of view and are willing to learn from others. We rely on many partners in the region and state to move initiatives forward and are happy to shine the spotlight on their efforts.
A key partner continues to be the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, which served as our business incubator and gave us a firm foundation to take off and soar.
We have worked with the Chamber on many issues – workforce development, affordable housing, infrastructure funding, education, and more. This partnership allows the two organizations to focus on our distinct roles without duplicating effort as we all work toward the greater good for our community.
At the Chamber’s planning retreat this year, I’m certain we will celebrate the legacy of Bob Bartz, who passed away suddenly this February. Bob’s leadership created a strong advocacy organization for local businesses and the community, which is a legacy to be admired and appreciated.
As an organization “incubated” by the Chamber, the Bradenton Area EDC started with great genes, and we are building on that foundation to foster economic prosperity that supports a desirable quality of life for residents of Manatee County. That’s economic development, and that is the legacy we strive to achieve.