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Bright Spots

By Hannah Wallace February 28, 2009

Let me just say it in print: I am tired of all the bad news. And I felt even more discouraged when we worked on our annual list of the builders who pulled the most building permits during the recent year. We started publishing this list in 2005, using 2004 data, at the height of the boom; and in comparison to that year, the numbers on this year’s list are grim. In 2004, builders pulled 5,574 permits in Sarasota and Manatee. Last year, they pulled only 1,190. Seven of the builders who were among the top 15 in 2004 have completely vanished from the list, while others have fallen to the bottom.

The No. 1 builder in 2004 was Lee Wetherington Homes, which had 654 permits worth $119 million. But in 2008, Lee Wetherington ranked No. 12, with only 16 permits, which were worth $7.7 million. That alone tells the entire depressing story of our economy in the last couple of years.

But then I heard about Bradenton’s Starwood Land Ventures and interviewed its East Region president, Mike Moser. Moser has a very different perspective on the plunge in real estate values that our region—and the country—has experienced in the past few years. To him, and others like him, it spells opportunity and the chance for growth and profits.

Moser’s company searches for rock-bottom real estate deals in some of the country’s most desirable locations, places with the character and amenities to attract affluent new residents. His company plans to make a major $500 million-plus investment in distressed properties, and he presented some convincing reasons to believe that real estate will bounce back within two years. Best of all, he believes Sarasota and Manatee are among those desirable communities, with plenty of prospects for reinvigorated growth and prosperity in the near future.

I came away from our interview reinvigorated myself. And there’s more good news in this issue. Our story “Net Gains” (page 20) profiles three tech companies whose revenues and staffs have been taking off in the last few years. In fact, Anand Pallegar, the founder of one of these companies, atLarge, told us he sees more opportunities in a down market than a flush one.

The lesson: Imaginative, flexible entrepreneurs will find opportunities in tough economies as well as boom times. And if you’ve spotted some opportunities yourself but can’t find the financing to go after them, our award-winning columnist Johannes Werner has good news for you. Credit unions are stepping into the lending void, making loans to small businesses. See "Extra Credit."

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