BY SHARON HILLSTROM
Kevin McGowan knows rowing. He also knows what makes communities competitive in attracting businesses and jobs.
The president of McGowan Corporate Real Estate Advisors, a corporate site location consultancy, McGowan attended the World Rowing Championships (WRC) as a guest of Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development arm. The Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. (EDC) shared the suite along Champion’s Row across from the Finish Tower and hosted local business owners and representatives of global businesses visiting the event.
In addition to being a site selection consultant, McGowan was a rower at Princeton University and currently rows at University Barge Club in Philadelphia. His friends include current and past rowers and coaches of the U.S. National team.
“The Sarasota-Bradenton rowing course is hands down the best in the country,” McGowan reported when I asked about his experience at Nathan Benderson Park. “I rowed on the course last year in a Masters event and it was obvious that its design was world class. Adding to the attractiveness are the facilities that were put onsite for the World Championships. I would think that Sarasota-Bradenton will be in contention for major regattas for years to come.
“In addition, as a site selector, I would think that sports management businesses – whether equipment-, treatment- or training-related – would find the region a great place to do business. 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.”
Hearing this level of praise from a national site selection consultant who advises companies on their location decisions reinforces the value of events like the World Rowing Championships. The economic impact analysis on the WRC will be out in November, but we already know it drew more than 42,000 fans and spectators, plus 1,500 athletes and delegation members from 71 countries.
But even more, McGowan’s insights validate the Bradenton area’s viability as a hub for sports performance businesses and the excellent careers they provide.
The Bradenton Area 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 Pittsburgh Pirates, IMG Academy, Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex, Premier Sports Campus at Lakewood Ranch, and more.
Recently, we commissioned an analysis of existing assets and opportunities related to the sector and are shaping 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 the sports performance businesses that are 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.
Already, IMG Academy has affiliated with global brands like Gatorade, Johns Hopkins and Motus Global for R&D related to sports performance. The companies have a presence on IMG’s 500-acre campus and are partnering with the academy to bring leading-edge products and training techniques to athletes.
So, the next time you drive past I-75 and University Parkway and see rowers in action, remember that’s just the tip of the iceberg. The value of sports performance to our region is far-reaching, and the EDC intends to aggressively pursue development of this promising sector.