The morning the March Inc. came out, people started calling, asking me, "Did you hear? Inc. ranked Sarasota the No. 3 midsize market in the nation for doing business!" My first reaction was to call an out-of-town friend who has been thinking of moving to the area. "See, you really should relocate your business here," I advised. "The magazine says we 'may well be Florida's next big thing." I was happy Inc. gave me one more piece of evidence to refute my friend's perception that we're still mainly a sleepy resort and retirement mecca. Salvador Diaz-Verson Jr., the owner of DVA Sports, which is building a new $46-million, multi-purpose arena in Lakewood Ranch, admitted that was his perception before he investigated the region. "Then, you get down here and see how vibrant the whole area is," he told me.
Diaz-Verson, like many newcomers, see Sarasota-Bradenton as part of a greater metro area, and that's probably the best way to look at our top ranking in the article. More and more, as our cover story on commuters (page xx) shows, we're part of the South Tampa Bay region and connecting to Charlotte County as well. Workers are crossing county lines and the Skyway, not just driving across town, to their jobs. Janet Gillis, the public relations director of another new local company, VenVest of Florida, says she thought Sarasota-Bradenton was a backwoods outpost before she left her job in Tampa (where she still lives) to work here. "But when I drove into town, I saw people dressed in suits, not T-shirts and shorts," she says. "There's a freshness here, a new type of business, It's more entrepreneurial."
While I'm skeptical when Inc. points to our growing tech sector and availability of affordable housing as reasons for our top ranking, job growth has indeed been rapid-xx percent in the last decade. Our company, Gulfshore Media, has grown from 12 employees in the early '90s to 63 today. Like Gillis and Diaz-Verson, I've shifted my own opinion of where I work and live.
The stories in this issue-Sylvia Reed's story on the impact of the Tropicana headquarters relocation (page xx) and Pat Haire's story (page xx) on creative benefits-show the strength of the local business market and how smart employers understand that to keep employees in this climate they have to be innovative. Finally, Anu Varma's "Missions of Mercy," (page xx) shows that it's just as important to spread our prosperity to others.