Wise Up

By Hannah Wallace March 31, 2006

If you want to know why we've devoted an entire issue to education, Norbert Donelly, president of Tervis Tumbler in Venice, has the answer: "Labor is our biggest problem," he declares. "It's holding our growth back."

Donnelly made that remark as part of a panel assembled by the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County, which also included Margaret Holloway, CEO of HealthSouth of Sarasota, and Jeff Hazeltine, who recently relocated his high-tech medical animation company, BioLucid, to the region. They all focused on the availability of skilled workers as key to their companies' success.

Donelly, whose fast-growing company manufactures insulated plastic cups that make people think fondly of the '50s, says he employs 140 people today, and 40 percent of them have been hired within the last year. His company's growth could escalate if only he could find more educated and skilled employees.

Holloway, who currently employs 250 people at HealthSouth's rehab and acute-care facilities, faces a similar problem as she competes with other hospitals and nursing homes for scarce healthcare workers. Manatee Community College and other local educational institutions can't turn out LPNs and respiratory therapists fast enough. "It's our greatest need," she says.

And finally, Hazeltine says the animation grads at Ringling School of Art and Design were a major factor in bringing his company from San Diego to Sarasota to produce animation for the biomedical and pharmaceutical industries.

Fortunately, as you'll read in this issue, the region is responding to the call by expanding the educational world beyond high school. "College Choice" highlights the expansions and increased enrollments of our institutions of higher learning. USF Sarasota-Manatee is moving to a new campus this fall and increasing its students from 3,500 to 5,000; it's also opened the new School of Hotel and Restaurant Management (story in this issue) in direct response to local employers' needs. New College of Florida is adding dorms, partnering with the University of Florida to create a local land-use institute and embarking on an ambitious master plan for the next several decades. Ringling School of Art and Design has added new majors and expanded its campus to the old Sarasota High School for an arts educational center. Two medical schools have expanded to the region in the last few years, and Manatee Community College now operates on three campuses and teaches 30,000 students a year. Our technical institutes also have gained a newfound importance as local educational leaders like Sarasota schools' superintendent Gary Norris stress the new economy's need for technical skills, not college degrees. We feature a few of these surprising new technical careers in our story "Hot Trades."

Not a bad report card for a region that's still noted more for its beaches than its classrooms.

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