Working Together

By Hannah Wallace July 31, 2008

I’m a believer in getting people together for conversations, especially now that we’re faced with a radically different business climate and many of us are feeling bleak and alone. Sharing ideas creates both opportunities and change.

That’s why Biz941, Sarasota Magazine and USF’s Institute for Public Policy and Leadership recently had a conversation about holding a series of panel discussions on growth called “What will the Next Five Years Look Like?” We saw it as an opportunity to connect people and create fresh thinking, and Sarasota’s COBA, the Coalition of Business Associations, came on board to sponsor a series of four panels.

Our May forum focused on whether, as a region whose prosperity has been almost completely dependent on visitors and growth, we can really diversify our economy. People already are talking about one of the concepts that emerged: a fresh approach to economic development called economic gardening. (A transcript of the forum is posted on

You can learn more about this concept in our cover story, “What If” (page 30) and in “Course Correction” (page 34). Let’s just say it’s a systematic, sophisticated approach to growing our own entrepreneurial companies rather than spending energy and money trying to attract outside companies to relocate here.

Now Kathy Baylis, the CEO of the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County and one of our forum panelists, is considering a trip to Littleton, Colo., a city that’s had considerable success with this strategy.

Nancy Engel, the executive director of the Manatee Chamber’s Economic Development Council, is using another one of our panelists, Steve Quello, an Orlando-based consultant, as a speaker at her annual think tank on Aug. 15. (The public is invited; call Sharon Hillstrom, 941-748-4842 ext. 140 for details.) “We’re trying to let people know that jobs are changing,” she says. “Manufacturers are going away. The weakest part of our economy is the growth of our entrepreneurial sector. For economic gardening to be successful, it needs to work on a much larger, regional effort. One county alone does not have enough money or resources or the larger mindset required to make something happen.”


Watch for our next “What will the Next Five Years Look Like?” on Sept. 13 at USF. The subject: Climate change and our economy.

High note: When we interviewed indefatigable real estate attorney Anne Weintraub, one of our 2008 People to Watch, she mentioned maybe a dozen life goals—travel, taking the bar in another state, having her own syndicated newspaper column and TV show, and oh, yes, singing the national anthem at a sporting event. Right after that interview was published in our July issue, Gary Saunders of the Cincinnati Reds’s Florida operations, Jay Brady of the Gulfcoast Builders Exchange and Kerry Kirschner of Argus showed up on the sixth floor of Icard Merrill and invited her to sing the anthem Aug. 1 at the Reds/Tigers game at Ed Smith Stadium. Talk about making dreams come true!

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