Twenty years ago, the Manatee Chamber of Commerce Economic Development Council consisted of a committee that met quarterly, a budget of $10,000 and no staff. Then they hired Nancy Engel.
Engel, who had just moved from Indiana, spent the next 20 years transforming the EDC into a proper department with today's six staff members and a budget of about $660,000. Over the years, the avid sportswoman has worked with numerous prominent businesspeople who served as EDC chairs and helped bring corporations such as Flower's Baking Company of Bradenton, SYSCO and Beall's corporate headquarters and distribution center here.
What do you see as your biggest achievement at EDC? Your biggest setback?
My biggest achievement, and I did not do this alone, is really the restructuring of the EDC to be a fully staffed agency. Setbacks? Every time we lose a company that's a setback.
What types of industries/businesses does Bradenton need to attract?
Those that add value to products or services through knowledge and technology: information technology; or biotech, such as BioLife; specialty manufacturing-an example is Edwards System Technologies. [These businesses] translate into higher skilled, higher paying jobs. In economic development, it boils down to providing an opportunity for a better lifestyle for everybody, raising the standard of living. And better jobs can do that.
We keep hearing that it's easier to get projects approved in Sarasota County vs. Manatee County these days. Is this true? Why?
I don't believe that's true. I know our rapid response process, Sarasota modeled after ours, the state modeled after ours. I think one of the things we're facing now in both counties, because we're growing, is lots of construction, and permits are getting hung up in the pipeline.
How do you sell Bradenton and Manatee County to corporations looking to relocate?
Selling is a misnomer. Economic development is not as much marketing as it is customer service. We work with Enterprise Florida and Tampa Bay Partnership and they generate leads for us, and it's how we take care of the leads. The greatest growth probably comes from existing industries that other communities in the country are also targeting, and we try to keep them happy here. They become our best advertisers.
How has the business climate in Manatee County changed in the 20 years that you have been here?
We have grown to be less dependent on tourism and agriculture. Both still play an important role in the economy, but we're diversified. When I first started organizing the EDC as it is today, the boating industry and food processing were 64 percent of the manufacturing base. Any time you put that much into two industries, you're vulnerable. Both industries are still healthy, but represent less than 40 percent [of the manufacturing industry] today. One of the things economic development is about is diversification, so if one industry gets hit, hopefully not all others are tied to the same economic fiber.