by Jacob Ogles, SRQ Magazine
Some of the region’s top startups won recognition at the inaugural SRQ Localpreneur of the Year awards Thursday, shortly after business leaders gathered for a panel discussion on attracting the boon of a booming economy to the Gulf Coast. At the SB2 2018 State of the Region event, tourism and economic development players said the region continues to be strong in terms of tourism growth, and it continues to strive for economic diversification.
“The biggest competitive advantage is the place we have and the people it brings here,” says Mark Huey, president and CEO of the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County. “Many of the businesses that do come here first engaged through the tourism industry.” Virginia Haley, president of Visit Sarasota County, said overall visitation to the region went up 6.5 percent in 2017, in spite of the impact of Hurricane Irma. “But what matters most to me is it was accompanied by a significant increase in visitor spending,” she says.
Jeffrey Mayers, general manager for The Resort at Longboat Key, noted one fifth of jobs in Florida are directly or indirectly tied to tourism. “People come here as visitors many times first.” Indeed, Elliott Falcione, executive director of the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau, says boosts in visitation to the region not only mean jobs in the hospitality sector but potential to attract entrepreneurs. “What we don’t discuss enough is the conversion from visitor to resident to business owner,” he says. He noted that when new visitors come to the area, 84 percent book a second trip here in the next year.
Rick Piccolo, president and CEO of Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, said those visitors are coming from more areas as well. About 70 percent of air traffic comes from visitors to the region compared to 30 percent local, and the key markets remain New York, Boston, Washington D.C. and Chicago, but the airport has recently announced Allegiant Air service to markets like Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Indianapolis, so he expects interest from the Midwest to steadily rise. At the event, Brian Mariash of Mariash Loather Wealth Management noted a distinct acceleration in the economic recovery, something that should benefit this region because of the disproportionate level of luxury amenities here. “That has been helped by the tax package passed recently,” he says, which makes it more enticing for states with high income tax rates to move to Florida.
At the event, SRQ Media announced the first winners of its Localpreneur of the Year Awards. The winners of the competition were selected by judges (and former Sarasota entrepreneurs now living outside the market) Jonathan Rose Companies Development Director Andrew Foley and ORA Interactive Chief Growth Officer Ray Villares.
The five winning entries in the competition this year were: Jim Abrams, BizZoom, Fyzical Therapy and American Dreams Restaurant Group; Jesse Biter, PropLogix and BOLD; Joy Randels, Applied G2 and Invision Communications; Brendan Ragan and Summer Dawn Wallace, Urbanite Theatre; and Mike Quillen and Mike Gowan, Gecko’s Hospitality Group.