Community Remembers Baylis, Economic Development Pioneer

Todays News

BY JACOB OGLES SRQ DAILY FRESHLY SQUEEZED CONTENT EVERY MORNING TUESDAY FEB 17, 2015

In a time when Southwest Florida’s economy thrived or starved entirely on the strength of a few industries, Kathy Baylis, founding president and executive director for the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County, focused her energy on diversifying the economy. Upon news of her death, colleagues remembered Baylis for her ability to bring leaders from across the community together in building a stronger future.

“Kathy knew who she was, and she knew she had been given talents and accepted a responsibility to use her talents in a way that made a difference,” said Debra Jacobs, president of The Patterson Foundation. “What she really left for the community is that she set an example over and over again about crossing boundaries and doing something meaningful.”

Baylis turned her professional focus on economic development in the region before the EDC even existed. At The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, she rose to become vice president of economic development before setting out in 2004 to launch the EDC as an independent entity focused on recruiting new businesses to the region and helping existing ones expand. During an SRQ Magazine interview in October looking at the first decade of EDC operations, Baylis recalled the notion of an independent economic development entity was at first controversial, but enthusiasm grew with time. “We started getting people who hadn’t worked together before," she recalled. "It was very rewarding and everyone was excited about it.”

"The EDC came into being because Kathy Baylis had extraordinary determination and focus," said Jeanne Corcoran, Sarasota County Film and Entertainment Office director, "and although a realist about what made economic engines run, she was a optimistic visionary about supercharging that local engine up to maximum efficiency and speed." 

Former Sarasota County Commissioner Joe Barbetta said Baylis was instrumental in the creation of a strategic plan for economic development, bringing in consulting firm RTI International to identify sectors of the local economy with the greatest potential for growth. “She was willing to reach out and help Sarasota County as best she could, and did it in a tough environment,” Barbetta said. “For a big period, the economy was not doing great throughout the country, but she stood steadfast."

During her time with the EDC, the agency attracted such companies as Boar’s Head while assisting companies like Tervis and PGT with facilities expansion in the region. Baylis retired in 2011 as she dealt with personal health issues. “The EDC and the entire Sarasota County community has lost a tremendous friend and contributor to our quality of life,” said Mark Huey, president and CEO of the EDC. “We all owe Kathy a tremendous debt of gratitude for her leadership over 15 years of making Sarasota County a better place to live and work.”

Jacobs worked with Baylis on a variety of volunteer and professional endeavors over the course of 30 years, and in the last two years invited Baylis to work in a consultant capacity for The Patterson Foundation. In that role, Baylis advised individuals and organizations on community building efforts. 

Those who worked closest with Baylis said her greatest strength lay in an ability to get people who normally weren’t cooperating or focusing on the same goals to find common cause for a greater good. “Kathy was a trustworthy leader, with the ability to bring people together to take on big challenges,” said David Sessions, Willis A. Smith Construction president and a former EDC chairman.

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