Local Leaders Talk Red Tide and More at SB2: State of the Regional Economy

Business

BY PHILIP LEDERER SRQ DAILY FRIDAY WEEKEND EDITION FRIDAY JAN 25, 2019

Budding entrepreneurs, established executives and the business-minded of all stripes convened at the Hyatt Regency-Sarasota yesterday afternoon for the latest SB2 luncheon from SRQ Media. Entitled “State of the Regional Economy,” the noontime presentation featured a colossal panel of seven guest speakers, including Kevin Cooper and Jacki Dezelski of the Sarasota and Manatee chambers of commerce, Sharon Hillstrom and Mark Huey from the economic development corporations of the Bradenton area and Sarasota County respectively, Phillip Rich of Seaside Bank, Drayton Saunders of Michael Saunders and Company and Jeffrey Mayers of The Resort at Longboat Key Club. Assembled on stage for more than 200 people, the group touched on everything from incentives and the importance of tourism, to the need for affordable housing and the impact of nationally low wages, but it all began with a spirited discussion of the lessons learned from the recent red tide outbreaks.

“There’s been decline,” said Mayers, referring to everything from tax dollars collected by affected businesses and occupancy rates in the hospitality industry, as tourism suffers in the face of red tide. And this affects low-level employees most, he noted, with fewer hours available for the labor force. And with all of the negative attention and impressions made, Mayers sees no guarantee of a quick recovery. “I do believe we’ll have a hangover,” he said. Dezelski was quick to agree, referring to the “ripple effect” seen as the impact on tourism and hospitality spreads to small businesses throughout the region. In the absence of such tourists, she said, rises “the need for local people to live like a tourist.”

But the long-term concern, voiced Saunders, is nothing concrete, but the lingering concern over the return of an unpredictable and smelly phenomenon. “It’s not so much the thing itself,” he said, “but the doubt.” Alarmingly, he noted, many heard that red tide would be an issue in the early summer months, but few acted on that information. This hit on Cooper’s concern. “Don’t have a short-term memory about this,” he said, urging a need for vigilance and responsible preparation. “Once [red tide] goes away, people stop thinking about it. Hopefully this was bad enough.” And in terms of long-term planning, Rich was the one to invoke freshwater runoff and its relation to red tide. “I believe it plays a role,” he said. And though he agreed with other panelists that Florida was a natural winner, with its sunshine and beaches, he fears the region is “losing the natural assets that brought us here.” And investors may avoid the region altogether. “If you say “toxic tide” and “recurring” in the same sentence, you’re done,” he said.

In response, a big mission of the Bradenton Area EDC has been image rehabilitation, and warning businesses and residents of the lasting effect that countless posts of dead fish and murky waters have. Those posts are forever, she says, and harm the reputation, and therefore the economy, of the region. She would rather see locals and businesses posting about the positive aspects and post-recovery conditions. “These are the kinds of messages we need to get out into the world,” she said.

After further discussion of the possibility of a coming recession—“Absolutely,” said Rich, with Saunders countering that the economy slowing down is a return to a healthy norm—and business incentives—“How do we make them irrelevant?” Cooper asked—the awards were given for the 2019 Localpreneurs of the Year. Recognizing five entrepreneurs who have achieved success while keeping a local focus and appreciation, winners were Kelly Ison of Einstein Pets, Pete Peterson of Dealers United, Paul Mattison of Mattison’s Restaurant and Catering, Candice McElyea of One Eight Oh PR and Brett Wallin of Walt’s Fish Market and Restaurant.

Stay tuned for more SB2 events in the future.

Photo by Wyatt Kostygan.

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