Need any more evidence that the construction crane has become this region's official bird? Real estate, construction and development companies comprise fully one-third of this year's Top Companies list, with seven of the 10-highest revenue increases posted by construction-related businesses.
More than 100 local companies qualified this year for our annual Top Companies list, which includes Sarasota and Manatee businesses with minimum gross revenues of $20 million or more-more than half of those reporting an increase in revenues from 2004 and another 25 percent holding steady. Combined gross revenues of all 101 top companies totaled $19 billion.
Of course, the area's growth in the past year has been apparent in increased traffic and cranes, but manufacturing and business services also averaged almost a 25-percent increase from last year.
While growth is good, economic development officials continue to emphasize the need to nurture existing businesses to keep them committed to the region. "Growth is something that happens to you; it isn't necessarily a goal," says Kathy Baylis, president of the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County. "Sustainability is our ultimate goal. PGT Industries has 1,800 employees here. That's a large company; a company like that will spawn [other] companies."
Nancy Engel, executive director of the Economic Development Council of Manatee County, agrees. "Our bread and butter has always been our existing companies," she says, pointing to longtime local powerhouses like Bealls and Sysco, whose combined 11,000 jobs and more than $1.2 billion in revenues fuel many other industries needed to support these larger corporations.
At the same time, the region's smaller, specialized companies-especially in manufacturing and technology fields-boast skilled workforces and state-of-the-art facilities that are attracting larger national corporations to the area. Last March, for example, GE Security (which ranks No. 2 on the Top Companies list with $1.9 billion in revenue) relocated to Lakewood Ranch after completing its acquisition of Edwards Systems Technology, a perennial top company with $450 million in revenue in 2004 and a highly skilled workforce. "I'm sure we wouldn't have been on [GE's] radar if we hadn't had a very successful business [for them to purchase]," says Engel.
But both EDC chiefs warn that national attention, though beneficial when it brings strong corporations to the area, can also threaten local businesses, which may not stay local after they're purchased. "You win some, you lose some," says Engel. RMC Florida Group, a concrete manufacturer; Correctional Services Corp., a private operator of prisons; and Allen Investments, which owned several local hotels, all left the list this year after being sold and consolidated or moved to other cities.
On the sunny side, there's no ignoring the magnetic qualities of our calm Gulf waters and bright blue skies. Baylis says these lifestyle factors continue to appeal to executives and entrepreneurs looking to relocate or acquire companies. Mike Etchieson, former president and owner of Bradenton's Signs Now, whose 2004 revenues were $64 million, made the weather a selling point when he sold the company to Michigan-based Allegra Network in January 2005. He successfully encouraged the new owners to keep Signs Now headquartered in Manatee County and reap the benefits of temperate weather. "Would you rather go to Detroit or Sarasota-Bradenton?" he asked.
For information on how the Top Companies list was compiled, please see the end of the story.
NEW TO THE LIST
Institute for International Research
Clockwork Home Services
Germain Toyota of Sarasota
Gould & Lamb
OFF THE LIST
Foreign Trade Marketing
JCI Jones Chemicals
Correctional Services Corp.
Onyx North America
Central European Distribution Corporation
R.E. Crawford Construction
Kerr Food & Beverage
RMC Florida Group
TOTAL COMPANES: 101
TOTAL REVENUES: $19 billion
AVERAGE REVENUE INCREASE BY INDUSTRY
Business services, 24%
Real estate, 22%