SARASOTA COUNTY - With many Suncoast residents set to head to the polls with the economy on their mind, what is the reality of the local economy in 2013?
Jobs, home prices, education, even taxes -- all really heavily on the economy of course. No more then right in your back yard. In Sarasota County cautious optimism seems to be the take. The answers to the future may already be there to see.
Mark Huey heads up the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County. He says they've been working with a number of businesses to help blossom there. "There is a lot of uncertainty in our economy, but 31 companies moving or growing in our community bodes well for some of the momentum we have."
Other positive indicators include record numbers in tourism this past year, and rooms already booked for next. Also, upticks in the local real estate market. All you have to do is look to University Parkway and I-75. "It is the only mall I believe under construction in America. It is happening right here in Sarasota County. That is a sign of confidence in our market place."
In North Port, a number of new jobs are coming online with new stores -- 41 applying for permits recently. Major developers are feeling confident about a recovery.
"I have no doubt about it at all." Pat Neal of Neal Communities is starting construction on a 1,999 home community in Venice called Grand Palm, investing millions in the future. "I have been doing this a long time. Since 1968. We have had a record year in our company. I expect it to continue. Every month seems to be better and better. More confidence."
Jeff Maultsby is the Manager of Business and Economic Development with Sarasota County. He says major national retailers like Costco have already looked into their crystal ball too. "They see the numbers, they see the indications for the future that thing may very well be on the way to recovery. The hope is sooner rather than later, the rest of us will see those signs too."
So while many are remaining positive about the economic outlook next year in Sarasota County and backing it up with local projects, there are still some legitimate concerns. Some of them are surprising.
Even with unemployment still hovering around 8%, what could slow growth down is not enough workers with the right skills. "We are seeing data that supports the idea that the workforce is not ready and trained in skills enough to meet the needs of our employers," says Maultsby.
A recent study found most local manufacturing companies currently have open jobs. There are skill gaps in the health care industry, too. The building industry says they also foresee a problem, says Neal. "We are having difficulty getting good quality trades. People who are in our business seven years ago left and gone to places like Texas."
Working to diversify the local economy. Huey says the future will depend on a community-wide action plan. "Our School system, our universities, our workforce boards, and the businesses themselves to really line up and meet workforce needs as quickly as we can."
An uncertain future, but one here locally many in the know, like Neal, appear to be betting theirs on. "We have an irreplaceable set of environmental resources. As long as we can keep them pristine and available for people then people will come to our community because it is a great place to be and live and stay and work."
Local leaders say there could also be a big boost to the local economy next year in the form of sports tourism. That includes spring training in the wake of the success of the Orioles this past year, a masters swimming competition, and more rowing events, to name a few.