SARASOTA COUNTY - 2012 brought better numbers to the Suncoast; more jobs, visitors, and higher home values. Those in the know are hoping growth will continue in 2013.
Lets start with the economy. Those with the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County say judging by new and current business growth, things should be pushing ahead. "There is a lot of uncertainty still in our economy, but 31 companies moving or growing in our community bodes well for some of the momentum," says President Mark Huey.
They are looking forward to a nearly one million square foot shopping mall between Fruitville Road and University Parkway near I-75. "It is the only mall I believe under construction in America." Only problem is it wont likely be finished until 2014 but it should create a lot of jobs.
Interesting enough though, local manufactures and builders are saying they are finding it hard to fill some positions. "We are looking at some information that supports the idea that the workforce is not ready, trained, and skilled enough to meet the needs of our employers," says Jeff Maultsby who manages economic development with Sarasota County.
Many skilled workers have even left the area completely to find jobs elsewhere. Local organizations like Career Edge are working to bring job creators, seekers, and education better together. "All these unemployed people. We have kids in schools that want to look at where are there careers for their future. Lets really look at it and put a plan together regionally to solve this," says Mireya Eavy who heads the organization.
Real estate will be another key in the new year. "The short sales and the foreclosures have dramatically dropped." Long time real estate experts like Dan Heshmeyer with Gulf Coast Realty believe the momentum will continue. "You have investors. You have buyers who couldn't buy. You have sellers who couldn't sell. All coming back into the market at the same time. I think it is going to be a strong market."
With median home prices rising and existing houses being gobbled up, builders are making a return. Pat Neal with Neal Communities sold more than 550 homes in 2012. "I have been doing this a long time, since 1968. We have had a record year in our company, and I expect it to continue. Every month seems to be better and better."
Local politics will have its impact in 2013. With the slow improvement of the economy talks of development and controlled growth are likely to heat up again. No place might it be more evident then in North Port and Warm Mineral Springs. "We have some newly elected officials who may not share the same vision we had for the springs as the previous commission," says city Commissioner Tom Jones.
There are two new city leaders. One on Sarasota County. Government supported economic development likely to be an ongoing debate. "It is obvious there are some different definitions of economic development. Economic development is very broad," says city Mayor Linda Yates.
Finally the bread and butter to the Suncoast called visitors. Tourism officials say it was a banner year. Some months in 2012 up nearly 20% from the year before. More coming and spending more too said Virginia Haley with Visit Sarasota. "Not only are they coming here they are going to restaurants, they are going to the theater. They are are going to attractions. That is very encouraging."
Hoping all the signs point to 2013 loosening up a few wallets to everyone's benefit. "They have been denying themselves pleasures for four or five years. There is a little bit of consumer confidence going on."
With values of homes now slowly rising. 2013 might also bring something many have not had to deal with in awhile. An increase in property taxes.