Making the A-List at Last

By Hannah Wallace December 31, 2005

Our January issue always features our ranking of the region's top companies, an indispensable resource for businesspeople and newcomers. (Many thanks to newbie staffer Hannah Wallace, who demonstrated tenacity and research skill in pulling in all the revenue figures, compiling the charts and interviewing those hard-to-reach CEOs.) To qualify for the ranking, companies had to gross more than $20 million annually, and 101 made the cut this year. Most of these companies prospered in 2005, with more than 50 percent of them earning an increase in revenue over the previous year.

Not surprisingly, many of the companies that enjoyed the largest percentage increase in their revenues were in building and construction. The Florida Association of Realtors reports that Sarasota-Bradenton saw a net increase of 19,000 new residents in 2005 (we rank No. 1 in job growth nationally), and we all know what that means: more houses, schools, office buildings and stores, plus the crowded roads and rapidly disappearing rural lands that accompany growth. There is no doubt that the old Sarasota and Bradenton are vanishing, and that loss can be emotionally unnerving, but before we fret about what all these new people mean for our quality of life, it's also exhilarating to realize that people from all over the country and world want to be part of this community. It's like all the popular kids wanting to sit at your table in the cafeteria after you'd been sitting alone, quiet and underappreciated for so long.

And consider the alternative. We could be living in Detroit, Buffalo, Cleveland or Gary, Ind., all of which are reeling from GM's announcement a couple of months ago that it will cut 30,000 jobs over the next five years.

Tim Morris, CEO of Corvus International, which is building 2,000 residences and 600,000 to 700,000 square feet of retail here, came from Detroit, where his company is based, six years ago and established a Florida headquarters in Sarasota. Sarasota and Detroit are different ends of the spectrum, he says. "Detroit is on the verge of bankruptcy. There's never anything good in the news. The real estate market is depressed. There's no reason to go there. People try to put a good face on it and say, 'We'll get through this,' but there's no energy. Here, everywhere you go there's growth and energy."

And Morris isn't the only Rust Belt CEO to relocate to the area. Nathan Benderson, founder of Benderson Development Company, one of the largest commercial developers in the nation, moved his headquarters here several years ago (see story in this issue). Detroit-based Allegra Network, the new owner of Signs Now, has decided to keep its latest acquisition local, and FanZ Enterprises, a sports marketing and merchandising firm, is relocating here from Carmel, Ind. And in a surprising move, given the Republican-dominated district and our right-to-work state, even the International Union of Police Associations, AFL-CIO, preferred this region, citing skilled labor, reasonable taxes and support services, plus affordable hotels and a commercial airport.

Since I'm well aware that attraction can wax and wane, I'm not going to let this newfound appeal go to my head; still, it's not so bad to be sitting at the popular table.

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