What a difference a year makes. Last year, vice president of Sarasota County's Committee for Economic Development Kathy Baylis wondered if a national economic downturn might affect Sarasota well into 2003. This year, she acknowledges, "Some companies downsized and a few went out of business, but overall, we weathered the last two years pretty well."

The region's wealth, continued growth and resulting low unemployment rate continue to shield us from problems other regions have suffered. According to the Federal Deposit and Insurance Corporation's summer 2003 state profile, Florida was one of only two states in the Atlantic region that reported positive consecutive yearly growth.

One example of that growth is the Pennsylvania-based Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, whose new $25-million campus in Lakewood Ranch could throw as much as $30 million into the economy. Another is Beall's, a Manatee County-based retailer whose 150,000-square-foot addition to its distribution center should create 200 new jobs.

"We've hardly missed a beat," says Baylis, adding that more than 20 commercial and residential projects in downtown Sarasota could add another billion dollars in investment.

Maybe that's why our list this year is the largest ever, with 145 companies grossing nearly $17 billion in revenues. The majority either broke even or posted increases averaging 13.8 percent. That's down from the 60 that reported increases last year, but 26 of this year's growth companies posted double-digit gains.

Thirty-nine companies were down by nearly eight percent, still better than last year, when 27 companies reported losses averaging 13 percent.

By industry, manufacturers make up the bulk of our list; their sales held fairly steady this year, increasing by 13.8 percent (compared to 13 percent last year). And they continue to be clustered in Manatee County, taking advantage of Port Manatee, the Manatee River and the mouth of Tampa Bay.

The building industry posted the largest overall increases-18.3 percent. Eleven of those companies achieved the same revenue as last year, but eight reported losses, averaging nearly 10 percent.

"The biggest change this year is the return of the strength of our local companies and expansion projects," says Baylis. "Eleven expansions accounted for over 80 new jobs and $12 million in capital investments, so we expect a strong 2004."

ABOUT THE LIST

Our list includes companies with annual revenues of $10 million or more that are headquartered here or self-contained divisions of larger companies. We rank them by annual sales and exclude some, such as auto dealerships or financial institutions, that report sales in a way that does not compare meaningfully to most other companies. In the few instances where companies earned revenues through commissions, we report earnings after those commissions. Real estate firms report only commissioned sales. We publish sales figures exactly as companies report them to us; last year's sales are in parentheses after the current year's sales. If a company declines to report sales, we estimate, using a variety of sources. We also publish estimates given to us by companies that project earnings because their fiscal year did not end before press time. All estimated figures are marked as such.

To compile the list, we call on local, regional and national sources, including economic development councils and industry analysts. We hope you will bring any omissions to our attention so we can consider them for next year's story.

VITAL STATISTICS

Total companies 145

Total revenues $16.84 billion

Number posting increases 48

Number posting decreases 39

TAKING STOCK

10 of our top companies are listed on Nasdaq, 1 on the NYSE and 2 on the OTC.

7. Intertape Polymer Group, ITP on NYSE and TSE

10. Central European Distribution Corporation, CEDC on Nasdaq

11. Edwards Systems Technology, SPW on Nasdaq

14. Gevity HR, Inc., GVHR on Nasdaq

18. Sysco Food Services-West Coast FL Inc., SYY on Nasdaq

21. Correctional Services Corp., CSCQ on Nasdaq

38. L-3 Communications, Aviation Recorders, LLL on Nasdaq

41. Sun Hydraulics, SNHY on Nasdaq

44. Teltronics, Inc., TELT on OTC

46. Comdial Corporation, CMDZ on OTC

49. Eaton Aerospace, ETN on Nasdaq

91. Pierce Manufacturing, Inc. Florida Div., OTRKB on Nasdaq

92. Teleflex Electrical Systems Division, TFX on NYSE

BY THE NUMBERS

The bulk of our list is comprised of homebuilding and construction companies and those devoted to manufacturing goods. Here's how the numbers break down.

Agriculture 2.7%

Distributor 2.7%

Food 6 %

Healthcare 8%

Homebuilding/Construction 26%

Hospitality 2.7%

Manufacturing 28%

Marine 1.3%

Non-profit 2%

Publishing 1.3%

Retail 2.7%

Wholesale 1.3%

Other 15.3%

10 BIGGEST REVENUE GAINS BY PERCENTAGE

Sysco Food Services-West Coast FL 149.0

National In-Store 51.2

Shannon Resort & Club Group, Inc. 48.7

Central European Distribution Corp. 41.2

Pruett Builders 29.4

John Cannon Homes 29.0

Ajax Paving Industries 28.6

Aso Corporation 25.0

Frederick Derr & Co. 25.0

PGT Industries 23.8

10 BIGGEST REVENUE LOSSES BY PERCENTAGE

ParView, Inc. 44.4

Pierce Manufacturing, Inc. Florida Div. 37.5

Pacific Tomato Growers, Ltd. 36.9

Nelson Publishing, Inc. 33.3

Trilectron Industries, Inc. 31.7

Comdial Corporation 26.1

Cook Spring Company, Inc. 25.0

Bruce Williams Homes 19.8

McIntyre Elwell & Strammer 18.7

McDaniel Trading, Inc. 16.7

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