Once in awhile, when I contemplate the decades ahead, I imagine sitting in my own little bookstore, cracking open a new shipment of books I can't wait to read and my customers can't wait to buy. Or maybe I'll fantasize about standing behind a scuffed-up wooden counter in my own charming neighborhood pub, greeting old and new friends and listening to their stories while serving up expensive Belgian ales. And then there's the idea of just operating my own home-based freelance writing business, enjoying the flexibility of setting my own schedule and choosing my own projects.

All this dreaming makes me like many other baby boomers. Raised in an era of optimism and prosperity, we have the confidence and, according to actuarial charts, the longevity to wonder what lies ahead in terms of a second career.

If you've ever contemplated being your own boss, Kristine Nickel's article on page 30 will interest you. She took a look at how rapidly the region is growing and wondered which types of entrepreneurs and new businesses would prosper in our burgeoning economy. The highly educated and affluent boomers flooding the area are demanding, prolific consumers and expect an economy that delivers the goods and services they are accustomed to. But, being baby boomers, they are also the type to be unafraid to begin again. Where should they apply their time and talents? After talking to seven forward-thinking insiders, Nickel developed a list of the top 10 business opportunities in Sarasota and Manatee. And while no neighborhood pubs made her cut, there are plenty of other intriguing possibilities.

One business opportunity that didn't make the list was starting a bank. Chris Angermann's story on the dollars and sense of getting a bank charter shows that there's plenty of profit for entrepreneurs and investors who want to go the long and highly regulated route of opening a community bank. There's also lots of competition. Jack Greely, an Orlando attorney who specializes in bank startups, says the state has seen more bank applications in 2004 than at any other time since 1998, and this year, he expects even more.

Charles Murphy, president and CEO of The Bank of Commerce in Sarasota and a newly appointed member on the American Bankers Association's government relations council, says a strong national economy is always good for banks. And in Southwest Florida every ingredient is present to make banks a good business to start or invest in. We have the growth, the demand and a large pool of investment capital in the region.

Also in this issue, you'll find a brand-new, bi-monthly column on manufacturing by Nancy Wollin, an international trade attorney, who, once she stumbled on the number and types of manufacturing operations in the region and the products they ship out of state and around the globe, was eager to get the word out to readers about the importance of manufacturing to our local economy.

Finally, take a look at my interview with Bob Gibbs, the Michigan-based national urban retail guru, who will be in Sarasota this month to talk to the St. Armands Merchants Association and Business Improvement District. As always, his insights are thought provoking. Sarasota is on the retail map and the race is on to see which location in Sarasota will win the big prize.

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