Our Top Companies feature is a huge undertaking that starts four months before it actually appears on these pages. Associate editor Hannah Wallace has been putting this feature together for four years now, and she’s built a database of companies in Sarasota and Manatee that gross more than $20 million in revenues. She’s always on the alert for possible new companies to add to the list, combing sources from newspapers to water-cooler gossip. She contacts all of the contenders every year, in an all-out fax and phone effort that takes several months to complete. It’s a time-consuming and tedious process that requires an organized mind, tenacity, skill with spreadsheets and a sailor’s vocabulary when the rankings change up to the last possible minute. Hannah, fortunately, possesses all those attributes in abundance.
She and I both appreciate that so many companies are willing to share their revenues, especially in bad years. It can’t be easy to show the local world that business is down by 20, 30 or 40 percent, but I’m betting that the companies that are willing to share their numbers are transparent with their employees as well, and that’s usually the sign of a healthy work culture that adapts and comes through hard times.
The year 2008 was challenging for just about every industry sector in the region. Only manufacturing and healthcare showed increases. Construction, retail, business services, food and beverage were all down. Total revenues of our top companies fell by $4 billion between fall of 2007 and the end of 2008—a number that translates into lost profits, jobs and tax revenues.
These shrinking revenues make all of us in the editorial office wonder what sort of community we are going to be living and working in five, 10 or 20 years from now. Looking out at the landscape of foreclosures, stalled projects, bankruptcies and empty storefronts, it’s hard for us to remember that just a few years ago many locals were worried about rampant growth. Our politicians, business leaders and economic development officials are scrambling to find industries that can help insulate us from real estate boom-and-bust cycles.
You’ll hear more about this at Part III of our Smart Growth/Dumb Growth series at 4 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 22 in Selby Auditorium on the USF Sarasota-Manatee campus where expert presenters will be discussing how and when we can climb our way out of this slump. The last two sessions took place in front of packed audiences, and even we cynical journalists left feeling there’s plenty of hope. Mark your calendars now and R.S.V.P. at www.sarasotausf.edu/ippl, or call the USF event hotline at (941) 359-4602.