Sunday, June 28, 2009

10 Ways we can improve Economic Development in Sarasota

I have been (somewhat) involved in the economic development efforts of our city - Sarasota, Florida. I love this town, and plan to live here a long time. However, our city (like most) lacks the economic diversity to sustain a healthy economy during tough times. Like most Florida towns, Sarasota has depended heavily on tourism and real estate.

When I first began writing this article I was going to complain and whine about how this city isn't doing the right things to help strengthen our economy - but instead I figured I should take a more positive road, and lay out ten things I would do:

1. FOCUS ON OUR ASSETS - I think sometimes we try to be what we really are not. We try to convince people we have a robust work force, or that we have an awesome tech infrastructure. We need to focus on what we have that is real, strong and what can attract a new economy. For example, Ringling Art School as one of the strongest schools in country around interactive design, animation, gaming, etc. Other assets we have is a vibrant Arts community, Mote Marine and our Film Festival. We need to leverage these assets to become nationally recognized as a destination for entrepreneurs.

2. FOCUS ON ENTREPRENEURS - Focus our Economic Development efforts on recruiting and retaining entrepreneurs. We waste time and money on trying to get "big companies" to relocate. We need to bring creative and tech professionals to our city, to build a new economy.

3. BUILD INCENTIVES - We need to have incentives to attract young, emerging companies to move here while they are able to decide where they want to grow their new company. We need to have money and programs that are aggressive in bringing them here. For example - Free Office Space - leveraging programs like the HuB Incubator is doing, or expanding on this concept into a Tech/Creative Park - where companies can apply and qualify for free rent for 2-3 years.

4. HIRE A LIASON - We need someone who is dynamic and energetic and knows how to get entrepreneurs excited about Sarasota. We need someone to visit Venture Capitalists, and other cities and incubators/colleges around the State. Constantly trying to get new startups, emerging growth companies to move here.

5. GET SERIOUS ABOUT TECH - A City needs to walk the walk... and we are not leading the way on being a "green/tech city". We need to invest in more tech infrastructure, broadband downtown. We need to show the world, that Sarasota can be innovative as a city.

6. BUILD A YOUNGER CULTURE - In order to retain and attract young professionals we need to build a younger culture in Sarasota. Projects like the VINYL FESTIVAL launched by the HuB do exactly this - it reaches out to the entrepreneur, artist, young professional and shows them this city acknowledges them, and has created a social side to our lifestyle.

7. BUILD PARTNERSHIPS - Start leveraging Assets in our city and build strong partnerships with other organizations along the I-4 corridor and around the State. Build relationships with UCF, UF and Disney. Extend research and development from these colleges and others into Sarasota. For example, create programs between - UF and MOTE or RINGLING and DISNEY... setup commercialization offices, and take IP to Products - create companies.

8. BRIDGE TECH AND TOURISM - Leverage our huge influx of tourists, and bombard them with tech/creative influence. Make them believe Sarasota is a tech-city and then they spread the word, or perhaps make a decision to move here. Make them want to start their next venture here - and not just vacation here.

9. EMBRACE SOCIAL MEDIA/NETWORKING - Expand on programs like which is a social network for Sarasota. Give all professionals the tools and ability to become more connected. Leverage online tools to enhance the local school system, government and other organizations to make the city more engaged, connected and efficient.

10. LAUNCH A GLOBAL MARKETING / PR CAMPAIGN - Take some money out of budget and launch an aggressive campaign to attract entrepreneurs and creative professionals to the area. Focus on areas where there is high entrepreneurial activity, and make it known to them that Sarasota wants to be their next home.

Hope someone is listening :)