Sunday, February 28, 2010

Hi-Speed Internet has support in Sarasota


Sarasota, FL: A community effort is underway to bring an experimental ultra high-speed internet service to Sarasota, and you can show your support for it. Google plans to launch a test system in a select few locations in the United States for a fiber network with unprecedented speed. The experimental system would provide internet connections 100 times faster than what most Americans currently use, according to information released by Google.

Google is asking municipalities throughout the nation to submit information about their communities via a Request for Information (RFI), which will be used to determine where the experimental networks will be built. Civic groups can also nominate their community. A group of community leaders within Sarasota is working to provide the requested information to Google by the deadline Fri., March 26, 2010.

To learn more about the fiber network project visit here and here.

To show support for Sarasota becoming one of Google's test markets, become a fan of I Want Google Fiber in Sarasota on Facebook.

Jan Thornburg
City of Sarasota
Public Information Officer
941-650-9693 (Cell)
941-954-4113 (Fax)

Thursday, February 25, 2010

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Newtown Estates BBQ and Blues

An invite from the friends of Newtown Estates
The Friends of Newtown Estates would like to invite all to our Community BBQ Cook-off and Blues Festival  Feb. 20, from 10 until  the open air theater begins around  6 pm.  We have booth space available  Please call Newtown Estates office for more information. Thanks.

Newtown Estates Park

2800 Newtown Blvd., Sarasota, FL, 34234
(941) 861-9870 

Monday, February 8, 2010

Economic Recovery Forum Video is back online

After some rejiggering, the county's server is working again, and the full video of the Forum can be seen here:

Friday, February 5, 2010

Perhaps water could be cheaper in Sarasota

This is small beans, but, still. -

Every month I receive two water bills from the county - one for water used, the other a fractionated finance charge, which is the same each month, and will be the same until, at some infinite future point, it's paid off.

I pay both bills online. The one that's the same - $15.09 - every month, I have set as an automated payment - the bank just kicks out a check in that amount every month. As in: no bill necessary. The county could save itself the labor and materials of sending out the paper bill, the return envelope, and the envelope containing both. It could all be done digitally, with an end of year statement, again, digital, or, up to you, it could be paper, if you prefer. But no, apparently that's not possible in Sarasota County. The people who pay their bills pay more, I'll wager, because we are paying for all the dead trees used to send us redundant information, month after month.

Just had to vent. Back to "the Arts."

Sarasota Business Today

Sarasota County focuses on economic development with ‘Sarasota Business Today’ news program

Sarasota County has launched a new public service news program called “Sarasota Business Today.” The program focuses on a spectrum of county economic development initiatives and local businesses, with the theme of: “Live. Work. Learn. Play.”

More here

Grand Opening in Tampa

Tampa Museum of Art opens Saturday

Thursday, February 4, 2010

Link to Taped Forum

A file of the televised Economic Recovery Forum that took place on Feb. 2, 2010 can be found on the county's website here:

See here for a stab at live blogging of the conversation, and other previous posts on this blog for more context, documentation.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

Hedrick Smith talks Thursday

Pulitzer Prize author and journalist Hedrick Smith speaks tomorrow, Thursday, Feb. 4, at the Hyatt. His topic is: ”The Dream at Risk, America’s Insecurity at Home and Abroad.” Find out more from the Forum Truth site - the talk begins at 7:30 pm.

Here's an interview with Smith by Doug Miles from a day ago.

Forum in the news

A brief story about the Economic Recovery Forum in today's paper:

Prescription for Sarasota County: a new economy

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Post-Forum - a couple more questions

Since the forum discussion leaned rather heavily on the arts, on design, and on messaging (marketing, tourism, etc.), it seems worthwhile to consider what it takes to become an arts center, as opposed to an artsy and cool place.

With that in mind, a question I submitted - rather late in the forum, which doubtless received many during its interesting 90-minute discussion, was this:
Many upscale communities across the US lay claim to being "artsy" or significant places where art is made. How does Sarasota - or any wannabe arts center - establish objectively that they really are special?  
That's a sort of philosophic aspect of the matter, but one that needs to be addressed. There's also a more pragmatic question of what sort of commitment a community is willing to make to the Arts.

It seems to me that a community that makes quality art needs to make it possible for folks without a great source of income to live, work, find the necessary materials, tools, and ultimately audiences. In New York City, where I used to live, the pattern was that artists would take over a decrepit neighborhood, create workplaces, as they did in SoHo, TriBeCa, and the East Village - and then, as they became "cool places," attracting bistros, galleries, bars, restaurants and real estate mavens, the actual artists were priced out of being able to live there.

Obama rolls out Small Business lending program

Practically coincident with the Economic Development Forum came this bit of news from the Federal level:

WASHINGTON—President Barack Obama proposed a $30 billion small business lending program Tuesday, the latest in a series of administration efforts to jump-start hiring by the nation's small businesses.

Economic Recovery: Excerpts from the Conversation

Blogging the Forum live - beware typos:

Don Grimes, Univ. of Mich economist: Sarasota had a sense of immunity prior to the downturn. Then came bursting of the bubble.
  • 18% of jobs lost since 2006 - 1 of every 5 jobs is gone.
  • Foreclosures have exploded.
  • Everybody who's bought a house since 2004 in Sarasota County is upside down.
Pat Neal - Builder, Neal Communities.
  • Fifth recession I've seen - "this is by far the worst."
Jody Hudgins, Banking, FNB Corp., Sarasota Cty. Planning Commission
  • "We all loaned into a market that was kind of silly." Can't take on any more risk.
What is the recovery going to look like?

Nora Patterson:

  • Gov''t. can't do everything, but can help. Sarasota County is positioned to be of assistance. Bonding out long planned projects to put jobs on the street. Incentives for higher wage employment. Community "SWAT Team" to help EDC recruit.
  • Also a referendum coming - in August 2010: Ask citizens if they'll support eliminate property tax for higher wage employers - to broaden the economy of Sarasota. This is the time to broaden the economy.

Comm. Joe Barbetta
  • I've been talking about tax abatement since 1995. Should hvae had it in place a long time ago. Need to help incentivize private sector to move forward.

Jeff Maultsby EDC mgr.
  • We're also looking at venture capital fund - getting into, or contributing to it.

Lauren Mayk: Question came in: What about existing businesses?

  • We have incentives - "there are so many businesses here that need to be taken to the next level"

Larry Thompson - Ringling College Pres.
  • Two years ago, Economic Development was a negative term here. "A crisis has brought reality to the community." 

Pat Neal
  • Cash cows for Sarasota: Social Security, Medicare, Medicaid - that is not a diversified economy. Need to look at Economic devel. in a whole new way.

  • TARP money is enabling some banks to lend. The community banks - 65% of job creation - they're getting hit on real estate - worried about having enough capital to survive. Today's announcement - from the President - to help banks - not TARP 2 - another kind of program - should help. These new guidelines being proposed today should help.
Kathy Bates (sp?)
  • "Economic gardening" - state economic program - pretty sophisticated - provide a loan. Also  a state venture cap program. Locally we have in North Port looking at revolving loan fund, and here, angel investors are looking at investments. WE're doing everything we can to make sure out businesses are aware of them. Economic Gardening - $8.4 million loan program for the state.

  • Venture Capital - follow the strategy - it would be exciting to see venture stopgate investing start here.- seed money, prototype, design, launch - I don't know who would coordinate it.

FPL Kathy Salvador -

  • We think Florida can be a hub for green economy. We want to build n momentum, and bring a much larger scale to the state - we need right legislation, renewable energy policies. We want to support as much renewable energy development as possible. 

Mayk: What kinds of jobs?

  • That's where scale becomes important. Right now 110 MW is being built. Pending approval for 700 more MegaWatts. If we get the scale here to draw manufacturers, we'd get jobs in solar, construction.
Barbetta -
  •  there are tens of thousands of homes that are substandard - retrofitting those homes, bringing them up to current standards - there's a business out there, and now there's the political will.
  • We should be looking at a center for excellence to get companies to the next level. We have a business commuity that's on board. Ringling is a world class institution.
Thompson - 
  • Thinking about using Ringling as a base for design industries. Aging is a key - think of it as an opportunity - to be a test bed for products, services, needed for people who are aging. 
  • Design goes way beyond packaging. It's actually about designing new businesses, new ways of dealing with customers, new products and making experiences for people. Think of Starbucks - it's about design - you go in because it feels good. Pleasant experience. That is design. You can create experiences when people come into your business. 
  • Target couldn't compete with Wal-Mart on price, so they competed on design. 
(Your humble blogger: OK, but those are boom-type luxuries - aren't we in a recession?)

Man in audience - Create a think tank - for design. 

  • Baby Boomers are not, for example, going to put up with wheelchairs and walkers - they are going to want corvettes.
Virginia Haley - 
  • Tourism. Sarasota has made investments in critical aspects of tourism - the Orioles, rowing facility, the beaches. Also have the arts, and natural land. Our marketing tagline is "Beyond the beach."
  • It's a new role for tourism - we're not selling one generic Sarasota to hte world - highly specific messages, targeting, drilling down to visitors that we know are really interested.
  • We need to better help people plan their trips here.

Thompson -
  • The Arts are like the fifth largest employer in Sarasota. The arts get people's attention, they come back, then eventually choose to live here. 

Grimes -
  • Sarasota is second to Manhattan in terms of percentage of pop. employed in the arts. Virtually unique. When we think about what is going to distinguish us, when we ask why would a person want to move here, we have to keep in mind that our arts and natural environment are key advantages. A lot of opportunity.

Speaker in audience:
the key is to diversify the economy - it's always been construction, real estate here. Now it has to be different.

Pat Neal -
  • have to split the thinking which says no growth to protect the quality of life. We have to change our attitude as it's expressed to people who come here. We have to disaggregate the idea that new growth is bad.
Nora Patterson:
  • I think Pat is absolutely correct - sustainable growth rather than building huge subdivisions that have no economic core. Most of the small businesses that come here move here because their CEO's think this is a fabulous place.
  • Tax abatements - the cities will step up - to encourage manufacturers.
Mayk - question via email: Is there a new model for development?

Barbetta - 
  • the new vision is to learn how to diversity - work on our sports, tourism, redevelopment. We have to be progressive, cutting edge.
  • The film industry has recognized this area has great locations. But they say, to make a movie, you have to have a sound stage - the studio where you can create sets for indoor shots. That's what we don't have here. We at Ringling also need it for our filmmaking program. We're looking at finding ways to partner - create a soundstage that meets our educational needs, but also to create an opportunity for filmmaking here. Need building, land - 

Mayk - how much?

Thompson - Around $2 to $5 million.

Speaker in audience - Film and entertainment - great way to keep our younger people here.

Arthur Gilford USF -
  • Sarasota Manatee USF - one thing Sarasota needs to pitch - you are educationally an enormously rich area. Given this population, you have more to offer here than Hillsborough, which is considerably larger. Need to promote this more.

Jim Ley

  • Dichotomy - you need young hip people on the design side - but older people are still going to come here. Need to invest in downtown redevelopment - a place for people who want to do something after 9 at night. Constant dichotomy - stand back and ask why is it happening? Is it happening for a positive reason?

You guys hear all the time: I'm for economic development, but not when it intrudes on my lifestyle.

Nora Patterson -

  • We hear that quite a bit. We try to see it from the perspective of the folks who tell us why it's bad, and try to create conditions and compromises so that the development can happen, and people feel that their concerns were dealt with.

  • We're down to 400 housing permits a year - excess development is not going to be a problem in our working lives. 

Katz (in audience - sorry, didn't get entire name)
  • Sarasota is a special place - we have some treasures - vital main streets in Sarasota , Venice - infill sites have diversity - mix of uses. We looked at the financial contribution of mixed use development - they pay their way. Contribute both to financial underpinning and quality of life.
  • Also, we assume people make rational decisions with economic planning. I'm from California - enormous center of entrepreneurs - not because of tax incentives, but because it's a cool place to live. We need to create a cool place to live.
Thompson -
  • that's why it's all about design - about how a community feels.
Barbetta - Design, education, marine science, "corvette walkers" - lots of different kinds of jobs.

Patterson - lawyers, doctors, accountants - also needed by our population.

Salvador - We think the 700 megawatts can bring thousands of jobs. We're competing with other states.

Question from audience: How do you keep the jobs local? As opposed to having a company come in with its own employees.

Ley - best way is to have an educated workforce. That's "a core fundamental"

Mayk: Wishlist question - if 100 milllion were given to the government, no strings, what would be the top 5 projects to fund?

Hudgins - Soundstage

Neal - Honore project, other infrastructure projects

Salvador - incentives to lure big industrial companies.

Grimes - Two things:  a fund to provide technical expertise for people who's got a great idea for starting a business. Second, put it into the arts. Establish an international reputation in the arts.

Barbetta - Arts - Soundstage. Youth sports. Infrastructure. Revolving fund help homeowners retrofit their homes, make them more energy efficient.

Thompson - Soundstage and Arts, and a quasi venture cap fund to help fund some of these great ideas - aging institute, creativity institute - to make those kinds of things happen.

Ley - Venture Capital, temporary wage assistance, subsidies.

Patterson - Transportation system, Make arts world famous, additional sports facilities.


(Blogger's Note: Live Blogging  - recording a conversation in real time - is an inexact science. Useful until a transcript becomes available. There will be things mistyped, misheard, but the hope is that it provides a sense of the exchange, as it happened.)

Live stream of Sarasota Economic Recovery Forum Starting Now


Below is the conclusion to Prof. Grimes' study of the economic outlook for Sarasota:

Sarasota County’s economy has entered its worst economic episode in memory. The unemployment rate in the county, which historically has been below the national average, now exceeds the unemployment rate in the nation as a whole, and it’s expected to get worse before improving slightly in the second half of 2010.

The county’s economic troubles can be traced to the construction-and-real-estate-related boom between 1995 and 2005, which inevitably has led to a construction-and-real-estaterelated bust. The nation has followed a similar path, but the amplitude of both the boom and the bust has been much greater in Sarasota. We anticipate that there will continue to be job losses in Sarasota County in 2009 and 2010, but the losses in 2010 will be minimal, partly because we have assumed that the much-discussed economic stimulus package, especially its infrastructure spending portion, will mitigate some of the job losses in residential construction activity.
The good news is that there has been some employment growth in the high-wage, higheducational-attainment industries in the county, even during the first two years of employment decline. We expect that employment will continue to grow in these industries (health care, professional services, and corporate headquarters) over the next two years, but that these gains will be too small to overcome the job losses resulting from the construction bust and the weak economy overall. Job opportunities for people with relatively low levels of educational attainment will be scarce.
We are forecasting that the unemployment rate in the county will continue to increase through the first half of 2010, when it will peak at 9.3 percent, after which it will begin to drift down slowly.
The county has some great assets to promote future economic development. These include its natural beauty and weather, its recreational opportunities, and its arts community. There is already a sizable and reasonably healthy white-collar employment base in the county. These assets are a magnet to attract up-and-coming industries.
Among such opportunities is a group not usually thought of as an industry, that is, affluent retirees. It is fortunate that so many of them have gravitated here on their own, but there should be no slacking off of efforts to keep them coming.
At the same time, it is important to recognize the county’s liabilities, especially the fact that it is geographically isolated from most of the country. This will make it difficult to attract manufacturing companies to this area, an observation supported by Sarasota’s very low share of manufacturing employment that is not related to construction. In fact, it would be difficult to imagine a less geographically hospitable place for manufacturing than coastal southern Florida, except for Alaska and Hawaii. Economic development efforts should be directed elsewhere.
The most important factor in determining any area’s economic prosperity, at least as measured by the income of its residents, is the level of educational attainment of its work force. Sarasota County needs to become single-minded in its efforts to attract highly educated residents and the industries that seek to employ them. We believe Sarasota has the assets to do so.

Some responses to questions about the Forum

The first set of questions have been answered by the county prior to the Forum. The relevant answer is beneath each question below:
1. How was the panel composed? I.e., who decided whom to invite?

The forum panel was planned by county, snn6 and H-T.
2. Was the EDC invited to participate in the Forum? If not, why not?
The EDC and CVB along with other community reps will be in attendance.
 3. & 4. Has Univ. of Michigan economist Donald Grimes (a panelist on the forum) done any work on Southwest Florida that we can access? If so, you have a link or reference?
Don Grimes research is posted on scgov at -


Prof. Grimes' research as posted on the county site consists of a pdf file:

and a power point set of slides that goes with it:

A few questions for the Economic Recovery Forum

We'll post some potentially useful questions about the Forum and for Forum panelists here as we get them. Here are a few preparatory inquiries:

  1. How was the panel composed? I.e., who decided whom to invite?
  2. Was the EDC invited to participate in the Forum? If not, why not?
  3. Has Univ. of Michigan economist Donald Grimes (a panelist on the forum) done any work on Southwest Florida that we can access? 
  4. If so, you have a link or reference?

Context: Sarasota Employment and Wages by Industry

Click on image to enlarge:

via Enterprise Florida

Grimes on bright spots for Michigan

University of Michigan economist Donald Grimes will be on this afternoon's Economic Recovery Forum panel in Sarasota. Here he is interviewed on hopeful sectors for Michigan in the current downturn:

Do you see any hopeful sectors for Michigan? You have previously talked about health care as strength in particular in Oakland County.
There's an amazing number of hopeful sectors actually in Michigan. As part of the study with the Research Seminar for Quantitative Economics that I was involved in, I believe we found 280 private-sector industries that between 2002 and 2007 actually grew faster in terms of employment growth in Michigan than they did nationally. That's a staggering number I never would have expected. Health care was one of the aggregate industry groups. There was also some that were in medical product manufacturing, pharmaceutical product manufacturing, agricultural and foodstuff manufacturing. It was in a wide variety of industries. Even semiconductors in Michigan were doing better than they were nationally.

Can the Arts replace Construction as an Economic Engine in Sarasota?

From the HT:
Among the participants is University of Michigan economist Don Grimes, who warned local officials early last year that the construction industry would never again become Sarasota County's dominant economic force. Grimes suggested local governments and the business community concentrate on developing other promising sectors, such as the arts.   

Questions abound: How do the Arts generate wide employment? What sort of jobs would become possible? Does the success of an arts-driven economy depend upon the quality of the art? If so, how does a locality ensure quality in its arts? How much of a role does marketing play in the image of a community as a "happening" place in the Arts? How does the Sarasota EDC (Economic Development Corporation) fit in?

For reference, here's a community profile of Sarasota County, with an employment breakdown by industry, provided by the EDC.

Every area bank lost in 2009

Recession took its toll on local institutions in 2009

Year-end financial reports available Monday show that every bank based in Sarasota, Manatee or Charlotte counties posted a loss last year.

Live blogging here today

Feel free to drop by and comment, or follow on Twitter:
SARASOTA - Business executives, academics and government officials will discuss strategies for helping the local economy recover in a 90-minute forum airing live Tuesday.
The forum, titled "From Recession to Recovery," starts at 4 p.m. It can be seen on Sarasota County Access TV, carried on Comcast 19 and Verizon 32, and via live streaming on the county's Web site,
more here.