The Top 100

By staff January 1, 2004

Last year, vice president of Sarasota County's Committee for Economic Development Kathy Baylis said this about Sarasota's corporate landscape: "I don't consider the forecast bleak, I just don't think it's going to get much better too soon. This could last well into 2003."

What a difference a year makes. Says Baylis today: "I kept waiting for the proverbial shoe to fall and it never did. Some companies downsized and a few went out of business, but overall, we weathered the last two years pretty well."

Nancy Engel, Baylis' counterpart in Manatee County, adds, "In a time when the focus has been on how poorly the economy has been doing, we have had some significant projects." Case in point: the Pennsylvania-based Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, which in September broke ground on its new $25-million campus in Lakewood Ranch.

"It's a growing community and we're a growing medical school, so there's a match," says Pierre Bellicini, the college's communications and marketing director. They also liked its proximity to I-75 and the Tampa airport. "We did a study in Pennsylvania that showed the medical school there alone, with 800 medical students, has an impact of $55 million a year. The school in Lakewood Ranch will have a 600-student enrollment, so we're estimating that it will have at least a $30-million impact here." The school should be completed by September 2004.

Then there's Beall's, a home-grown retailer whose 150,000-square-foot addition to its distribution center should create 200 new jobs. "The big story of 2003 is expansion of existing business," maintains Baylis. She notes that projects that had been put on hold for the last couple of years are now moving forward. "Eleven expansions accounted for over 80 new jobs and $12 million in capital investments," she says. And more are in the pipeline, including more than 20 commercial and residential projects in downtown Sarasota that Baylis says will add another estimated billion dollars in investment.

The region's wealth, continued growth and resulting low unemployment rate have all helped fuel those expansions and shield us from the downturns other regions have suffered. "We've hardly missed a beat," says Baylis. In fact, according 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.

Maybe that's why our list this year is the largest ever, with 142 companies grossing nearly $17 billion in revenues. You won't see all of them in this space this year. We've reserved that for the inaugural issue of our newest publication, Sarasota/Manatee Business. Here, we've showcased the top 100 companies. For the complete list, check out the January edition of Sarasota/Manatee Business, available on newsstands now.

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