Realtors have been telling people for years there's no season anymore-sales are strong all year round now, they crow. And most year-round residents see that summer brings long lines at Kilwin's on St. Armands, traffic jams on Cortez Bridge and ringing cash registers at gift stores on the beach.

Is our slow summer season ending? Larry White, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, says visitor patterns are indeed changing. "Twenty years ago, people used to stay all winter. The trend for the '90s was more people in the fall and spring." Part of this change can be chalked up to aggressive marketing campaigns in Manatee and Sarasota counties that tout summer, and the fact that today's visitors-even retirees-don't stay in one place for too long.

Nevertheless, says Virginia Haley, executive director of the Sarasota Convention and Visitors Bureau, "We're still seasonal, although the numbers don't fluctuate as drastically as they used to."

We analyzed Sarasota and Manatee's occupancy rates-the number of booked night in hotels-from 1998 to September of 2003 (the latest figures available at press time). Historically, occupancy rates used to decline steadily, starting in March, and wouldn't begin the climb back up until October. That ended in 2000, when occupancy began to rise again in May and reached a second, smaller peak in July before declining. This mirrors Manatee's occupancy rates.

So, are we still seasonal? Yes, but it's a far cry from the six-month summer hiatus of years past. -Pat Haire 

Hooray for Hollywood

Art: maybe a spongebob illlustration if we're allowed to use one. 

The Sarasota Film Commission reports that 2002 brought 36 projects into the area-everything from catalogue shoots for Land's End and L.L. Bean to the filming of "Out of Time" with Denzel Washington. In all, those projects brought $7.2 million into the county, according to data such as salaries, number of nights in hotels and car rental fees that film and catalogue companies pay out locally, and report to the commission.

In 2003, Pam Kline, Sarasota Film Commissioner, figures she received up to five requests a day from various companies that wanted to shoot in Sarasota. Among those: Mission Impossible 3 producers were looking for a suspension bridge, Honda was interested in an alligator for a commercial, and SpongeBob SquarePants wanted a "pirate village." More than 32 of those requests actually ended up shooting here, eventually employing 159 locals and booking 858 room nights in hotels, for a $3.3-million economic impact. 

VenVest: A Bellwether for Local Salaries? 

When downtown Sarasota firm VenVest, Inc. advertised for a $120,000-a-year public relations professional in Sarasota and Tampa newspapers late last fall, excitement rippled through local PR circles, where salaries average less than half of that. But of around 100 resumes received, only 20 were selected for an interview, says VenVest executive administrator Sandra Lemoncello.

The position required a person who could help position the VenVest name for a possible New York Stock Exchange public offering in the future.

VenVest, a St. Louis-based holding company with a number of franchise offerings aimed primarily at plumbing and HVAC contractors, first made a splash in Sarasota when it purchased the seventh floor of the planned Plaza at Five Points for $10 million. Co-founder Jim Abrams has decided to relocate the executive offices and two of the franchises to Sarasota over the next few years.

The PR position was filled by a Tampa resident, but anyone seeking a job might consider learning more about the rising company, which also recently advertised for a $30,000-a-year administrative assistant.

"Our corporate philosophy is to pay at the top of the scale," says Abrams, who projects his Sarasota staff will grow to 200 to 300 in the next few years. Adds Lemoncello, "Mr. Abrams wants VenVest to be known as the employer of choice in Sarasota." -Kim Cartlidge

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