Amid late summer's panicky reports of a tanking residential real estate market-in Sarasota, sales fell 50 percent from a year ago and prices were declining as well-the bright light remains commercial real estate. The top sale ($55 million for Sarasota's Gateway Office Park) in the 12-month period we studied was in July 2006, way after the residential market began to sink.

Even more interesting, Gateway was purchased by a Boston pension fund. "TA Realty Advisors has earmarked the west coast of Florida as a good place to invest," says N.J. Olivieri of Horizon Mortgage who handled the transaction. "It looks like California 10 years ago. There's a high quality of life with environmentally sensitive companies. When institutions start buying, you know you have a strong marketplace."

To assess the strength-and weaknesses-of the commercial market, Kim Cartlidge talked to some of the biggest brokers in the region. You can read what she discovered in "Commercial Outlook" on page 50. We're also publishing a comprehensive Sarasota office space guide, compiled by the Real Estate Oversight Committee of the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County. Currently, vacancy rates in most areas are at rock-bottom lows.

And be sure to admire the winning designs in our third annual "Commercial Designs of Distinction" competition. Many thanks to editorial assistant Hannah Wallace for her help in soliciting nominations from 150 architects in Manatee and Sarasota. While I always appreciate her data-base wizardry and unflappable nature, especially at crunch time, I'm especially aware this week that I'd better express my gratitude. That's because Hannah was one of several winners in Working America's national competition called "My Bad Boss" The contest received more than 2,500 entries, and Hannah's was selected as a favorite. For a week, she was a celebrity, interviewed by Marketplace on NPR, the Miami Herald, Air America and even a German radio station.

As she tells it, the manager in a big-box store in Bradenton where she once worked decided employees should wear a two-foot rubber chicken around their necks every time they violated a safety rule. Hannah was the first victim of this ridiculous policy. "I was mortified," she remembers. As you might imagine, the "safety chicken" didn't last long. Employees began to play hot potato with it, chasing their co-workers around the store to rid themselves of the humiliation. The same boss once ordered Hannah to go to a walk-in clinic on Christmas Eve so she could get a note to prove she was sick.

I asked Hannah what makes a good boss. "Someone who can make the work environment relaxed and friendly so people feel creative and productive," she says, "Someone who's easy-going yet confident is likely to be open with issues and generous with praise."

Excellent job, Hannah!

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