Randall Reid took the reins of Sarasota County government in January, after 12 years as Alachua County manager. He talked with Biz(941) about his goals.
What is your first priority as county administrator?
Understanding current systems, including those that affect economic development, from the 2050 Plan to how permits are processed; assessing how user-friendly they are.
The biggest difference between Alachua and Sarasota you’ve observed so far?
The economic drivers. In Alachua, tourism was related to college sports and drag racing. Focusing on innovation was easier in the university community; we had a much greater opportunity to capture research and innovation, and to keep it local.
What do you see as our economic drivers?
I’m a big believer in diversifying the community, pursuing the high-tech, biotech, life science-type activities to create a broader, more diversified base. My overall goal is to strength the tourism opportunities, because that’s fundamental to creating base jobs so people have the money to buy homes and support the homebuilding industry. We need to strengthen the technical skill base. Community colleges are extremely important; that’s where your skilled workforce comes from. In Gainesville, I worked very closely with Santa Fe College.
What role, if any, should incentives play in attracting and growing business?
Infrastructure affects growth, so if we can help facilitate new roads, sewers, cable, that’s appropriate. Gap financing is also appropriate if the target or strategic industry meets some kind of criteria, and that’s particularly true in home-grown industry. I’m a regionalist; I believe in strengthening the economy through business clusters, and I don’t want to go to war with other counties. There needs to be a regional plan, and we need to be a player in that plan.
What were you surprised to find out about Sarasota?
The magnitude of how wonderful it is here. I spent my first week and a half living at the Holiday Inn on Lido, and the view driving across the bridge into downtown is world-class—it competes with any beautiful city worldwide. The people have been extraordinarily friendly, too.
Our biggest asset?
Sustainable communities recognize that their natural environment is their biggest asset. People choose to live here because of it, and it’s an [important part of] economic development. When you have a rowing community, or a soccer complex, or an art festival, you attract people with creative minds. That’s why I’m here.
Your favorite pastime?
I’ve backpacked my whole life. I’m a former Scout leader, camper, kayaker. I enjoy just being outdoors.