The Buzz

By Hannah Wallace January 31, 2007

Leading Question

How bad is the region's traffic?

Congested roadways are often mentioned as a top concern of local residents. Who hasn't found himself crawling along I-75, S.R. 70 or Fruitville Road on his way to work or a meeting in the last year? And just mention traffic to a Lakewood Ranch resident and you'll get an earful about how impossible it is to get in and out of the ranch during rush hour.

But are our roads really that crowded?

Out of 30 urban areas of 500,000 to 1 million in population, Sarasota-Bradenton ranked 27th in traffic congestion, according to the Texas Transportation Institute's 2005 Urban Mobility Study-so we're nowhere near the top, even for urban areas of our modest size. The study goes on to say that our travel time index per trip is 1.25, which means we spend 15 minutes more traveling in peak time than we do traveling in free-flow conditions. Experts say there's an easy solution to that problem: Avoid driving at peak times! If you gripe about gridlock to someone accustomed to commuting 90 minutes to work in New York, Boston, L.A. or Houston, he'll just laugh at how spoiled you are.

But those of us who have been here for five years do feel the stress of increasing bumper-to-bumper traffic. And we know, as do the transportation experts, that our roads are only going to get worse as our population grows.

"There's no penicillin or magic elixir. You're dealing with accepting congestion," says Tim Lomax, a research engineer for the Transportation Institute. And as building roads becomes more expensive (the costs of right of way, cement and steel have all skyrocketed) and complex (think about environmental regulations and voters' resistance to higher taxes), it's unreasonable to expect we'll be able to build enough roads to counter congestion.

Steve Polzin, director of public transit research at the Center for Urban Transportation Research at USF in Tampa, says we'd need a 50 percent increase in the gas tax to pay for new roads. "You don't have anyone calling for an increase in the gas tax," he says. "We haven't had the public or political will to do this."

Is there any good news?

Polzin believes we've reached the maximum use of our cars. The trend of females entering the workforce has peaked. Baby boomers are in their prime travel years. Anyone who wanted to hop in a car rather than walk or bike to work or to do errands has already done so. Plus, we have smaller households.

And while cell phones and eating in the car create safety issues, they offer some solace. Talking to your husband and eating a burrito while stuck in traffic have made our drive time more bearable, Polzin says.

You could also consider the alternative to crowded roadways. "An economy in recession does wonders for congestion," says Lomax, who mentions Buffalo and Detroit as examples of cities where traffic is improving. "If you can reduce the labor force by 25 percent you'll see the difference." -Susan Burns

Five Questions

Aiming For Diversity

A new networking organization brings African-American professionals together.

Before moving to Sarasota in 2004, DeWanda Smith-Soeder worked for BP for 10 years as an organizational development and training consultant, then resigned in 1997 to open two BP convenient store and service stations of her own. Now, in addition to running Smith-Soeder Enterprises, she's founded the Black Business Professional Network (BBPN), of which she is also president, and is intent on helping the local business community become more inclusive to all minorities.

1. Why did you start the Black Business Professional Network? The BBPN is an outgrowth of Smith-Soeder Enterprises, which is a management and organizational firm that helps companies strategize diversity in terms of managing a diverse workforce, bringing in more diverse employees and conducting diversity training. When I moved to Sarasota two years ago, one of the things that I noticed was that there was not a platform for black professionals in the area. The broader community has all kinds of networking opportunities available, but there was a lack of blacks coming together to talk about business and economic development.

2. Who are the members of Sarasota's black professional community? I've found that Sarasota is ethnically diverse, yet still segregated-but that's changing in that there are many black professionals coming to town, from the young to the seasoned, including those who come down for the winter. We've encountered a very broad stroke of individuals and businesses, everyone from multimillionaires to the local barber. But there wasn't a mechanism to bring all these folks together.

3. Are other minorities involved in your organization? Everyone can participate. Anyone who is interested in supporting or marketing to this group is more than welcome to become a part of it. Although we are the Black Business Professional Network, we have network members of all persuasions and ages, from college students to retirees.

4. What kind of feedback have you gotten from the community? The community response has been very positive. People have been very inquisitive, wanting to know ways that we can collaborate. There's a continuum of black professionals within the Sarasota-Bradenton area, and I've had people sign up to be a part of our network from as far away as Orlando. For our first event on September 19, approximately 100 people came out, and we have more events planned. We have a wonderful advisory board made up of black business professionals in the area, as well-I'd be remiss in not mentioning them.

5. What do you and the BBPN hope to accomplish in the future? At the core, our objective is to support the community by becoming more inclusive. We would like to find ways to get the broader community involved with not only the BBPN, but people of color in general. Our mission is to bring everyone together so that they can be supportive of each other in terms of business and economic empowerment. We have plans for this to grow.

-Interviewed by Megan McDonald

For more information on the Black Business Professional Network, call (941) 366-8403 or log onto

February Planner

5: Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County investor update breakfast, 7:45 a.m. at Boca Royale Golf & Country Club, 1601 Englewood Road Englewood. $20 for EDC investors, $25 for future investors. Register online at

15: Siesta Key Chamber of Commerce Business Card Exchange, TIME AND PLACE TBD. $5 for members, $10 for guests. To RSVP, e-mail [email protected].

16: Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce Annual Kick-off Breakfast, 7:30 a.m. at the Hyatt Sarasota, $30 for members, $45 for nonmembers. To RSVP, call 955-2508 ext. 517.

21: Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce "Chamber U," Creative Marketing on a Shoestring Budget, 8 a.m. at Michael's on East. $30 for members paid by Jan. 11, $35 at the door; $35 for nonmembers paid by Jan. 11, $40 at the door. To RSVP, call 955-2508 ext. 517.

21: Manatee Chamber of Commerce Business After Business networking event, 5 to 7 p.m. at Michael Saunders & Company, 8325 Lakewood Ranch Blvd. Free; no RSVP required. For information, call 748-4842 ext. 122.

21: Longboat Key, Lido Key, St. Armands Key Chamber of Commerce Nooner Luncheon, 11:30 a.m. at the Sun House, 100 Bridge St., Bradenton Beach. $15 for members, $20 for nonmembers. To RSVP, call 383-2466.

22: Manatee Chamber of Commerce Coffee Club, 7:30 a.m., hosted by the Pittsburgh Pirates at Pirate City, 1701 27th St. E., Bradenton. Free; no RSVP required. For information, call 748-4842 ext. 122.

28: Longboat Key, Lido Key, St. Armands Key Chamber of Commerce "Good Morning Longboat Key" breakfast, 8 a.m. at the chamber office, 6960 Gulf of Mexico Drive. Free. To RSVP, call 383-2466.

My First Job


Geoffrey Michel, owner of The Met on St. Armands Circle, found his passion-and his wife-working in high-end boutiques.

Way back in 1977, when he was eight years old, Geoffrey Michel knew he wanted to work in retail. From his first job pricing inventory in the receiving room of a local novelty store as a teenager, Michel's mantra has remained the same: work hard and success will follow.

"I've always had an interest in retail and clothing; I started working when I was 15 years old at a specialty store on St. Armands called The Ship's Store. After I left that job, I began working for Lou Mettler at Mettler's [now The Met], which was clearly the best opportunity in terms of getting into high-end retail. I even met my wife, Brenda, on the back steps of the building on her first day of work.

"However, I took a short departure from the apparel industry in 1996 to open a juice bar, Juiceology, in Sarasota, across from the downtown YMCA. With a lot of blood, sweat and tears it became profitable and we were going to open a second location. But in the same hour that we were about to sign a lease on another building, Lou Mettler called and said he wanted me back. I decided to sell the juice bar and Lou brought me in to open the new enterprise. The chance to own my own clothing store in a great building on St. Armands was clearly the best opportunity for me.

"My goal with The Met is to be in business for generations and to pass it onto my children, Ava and Sawyer, if they want it. The greatest business advice I've ever gotten is, 'The best fertilizer for a business is the owner's footprints.' We're very customer-oriented; our clients say they like shopping with us because we're family-owned. I know that I was never the smartest or wealthiest guy, but from day one my work ethic has been my biggest asset. Anyone can succeed if they're willing to try."

-Interviewed by Megan McDonald


>>adminisphere: The upper levels of management where big, impractical and counterproductive decisions are made.

>>carbon-based error: Error caused by a human, not a computer.

>>deja poo: The feeling that you've stepped in this bull before.


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