Wrap Up: SB2 Symposium ‘State of the Regional Economy’, Jan. 24

SRQ MEDIA and over two hundred community members gathered at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota on Thursday 24, 2019 to explore the State of the Regional Economy. The first SB2 symposium of 2019 offered the audience an insightful program that analyzed the health of our local economy.

Season Presenter, Steve Altier of Seaside Bank, began the symposium by welcoming the audience with warm remarks. Altier reflected on his career noting, “To see where this business community has gone in the last 30 years and to be a part of it has been a great honor.” He also offered an encouraging message to guest students visiting from NewGate Montessori School, Out-of-Door Academy School, and Sarasota Christian School; “Consider the idea of getting into business because, everything is business.”

SB2 Season Presenter Steve Altier of Seaside Bank. Photo by Wyatt Kostygan

Opening speaker and featured panelist Jeffrey Mayers, General Manager of The Resort at Longboat Key Club took the floor next. Mayers discussed the convergence of tourism and the economy, bringing up what was to become a topic that gathered much discussion during the SB2 program, the red tide algae bloom. Mayers acknowledged that, “We’re going to be dealing with a hangover effect for sometime,” and urged the importance of overcoming negative perceptions.

SB2 Featured Panelist Jeffrey Mayers of The Resort at Longboat Key Club. Photo by Wyatt Kostygan.

Next, Eric Collin, President of Firmo Construction, offered an informative market outlook about the construction industry. His presentation gave the audience an overview of national and regional trends. Overall, Collin gave us positive news that development is growing in the state of Florida yet he was careful to remark that we must remain resilient. Noticeable dips and pauses in graphics displayed by the Firmo Construction leader reflected a development industry easily paused by natural disasters.

SB2 Brandstory Presenter Eric Collin of Firmo Construction. Photo by Wyatt Kostygan.

The program continued with an insightful panel discussion moderated by SRQ MEDIA’s Executive Publisher, Wes Roberts. The SB2 State of the Regional Economy panel was a full house this year, comprised of seven community influencers: Kevin Cooper of The Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, Jacki Dezelski of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce, Sharon Hillstrom of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corporation, Mark Huey of the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County, Jeffrey Mayers of The Resort at Longboat Key Club, Phillip Rich of Seaside Bank, and Drayton Saunders of Michael Saunders & Company.


The SB2 State of the Regional Economy panel, moderated by SRQ MEDIA’s Wes Roberts. (L to R) Mark Huey, Kevin Cooper, Jeffrey Mayers, Jacki Dezelski, Wes Roberts, Drayton Saunders, Sharon Hillstrom, Phillip Rich. Photo by Wyatt Kostygan.

Beginning with the “stinkiest question of them all,” Wes Roberts prompted the panelists to discuss one of the area’s most prevalent (and widely published) challenges in 2018 — red tide. The conversation that followed highlighted how our area’s economy has fared during red tide and how several of our panel’s community leaders have responded to the needs of struggling businesses affected by the algae bloom.  

The audience learned from Jeffrey Mayers that approximately ten billion negative impressions were made in the media about the red tide outbreak. This surprising statistic fueled dialogue about the role of social media and outside perception. Acknowledging that images on social media exist forever, Sharon Hillstrom, President and CEO of the Bradenton Area EDC, remarked, “We need to be putting things out there that show the great positive things about this community.”

Panelist Sharon Hillstrom of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corporation. Photo by Wyatt Kostygan.

With a decline in tourist dollars, how can gulf and bay-front area businesses bounce back? Panelist Jacki Dezelski reminded us that a red tide “ripple effect” extended to businesses of all types. In particular, the President and CEO of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce told the story of a struggling day care center that serves families who work in the tourism industry. Dezelski noted that in an effort to pivot away from an emphasis on tourism, several of our regional Chambers deployed strategies that called on the community to step up to the plate by shopping local. In particular, Dezelski gave a shout out to the Manatee Chamber’s ‘Live Like a Tourist’ campaign.

Jacki Dezelski of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce addresses the audience. Photo by Wyatt Kostygan.

Kevin Cooper, President and CEO of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, promoted a call to action for the audience to do its part in keeping our waterways healthy so we can help to mitigate the recurring patterns of the algae bloom. Phillip Rich, a Market Strategist for Seaside Bank commented that when speaking to an international investor,  “If you use the word toxic and recurring in the same sentence, you’re done.”

Panelist Phillip Rich of Seaside Bank. Photo by Wyatt Kostygan.

To follow, came conversation about current trends in the real estate market (it’s leveling out a little bit, everyone), a spirited debates about incentives (let’s just say there were some varying opinions about these up on stage) and a conversation about workforce development (how do we get past our reputation of Disney and retirement to attract some strong talent?).

Our panelists discussed employee retention and called attention to wages in the region. “The average annual wage in Sarasota County is lower than the average annual wage in the state of Florida, which is lower than the average annual wage in the United States of America,” shared Kevin Cooper of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce, “And the big reason behind that is we create a higher percentage of naturally lower paying jobs in Sarasota County.”

Kevin Cooper of the Greater Sarasota Chamber of Commerce. Photo by Wyatt Kostygan.

We found out that we’re not recession proof. Drayton Saunders, of Michael Saunders & Company noted, “Will there be a recession in the future? Absolutely. At some point we’re going to see a down cycle nationally. And that is going to affect us locally.” All panelists were in agreeance.

Drayton Saunders of Michael Saunders & Company talks real estate. Photo by Wyatt Kostygan.

The importance of maintaining support for locally-owned businesses was emphasized by the regional leaders. “As our top priority, we’re all about seeing local businesses grow,” noted Mark Huey, President and CEO of the EDC of Sarasota County.

Panelist Mark Huey of the EDC of Sarasota County. Photo by Wyatt Kostygan.

Thoughtful Q&A (thanks, audience!) kept the dialogue going forward. In particular, the panelists weighed in about how to meet the current needs of millennials and young professionals while continuing to attract young talent to our area. Takeaways: give them affordable housing, competitive wages, arts and culture, access to the natural environment, and provide them with a connection to the community. Good transportation systems are important too.

While we’re talking about the next generation, SRQ was pleased to have its youngest audience member yet in attendance at SB2 State of the Regional Economy! Can we please take a moment from economic development to recognize Meagan Ochoa and Eric Collin’s adorable month and half year old in the audience? 

SB2’s youngest audience member! Photo by Wyatt Kostygan.

Overall, we were thankful to have our panelists lend their expertise to our conversation and we learned a great deal about what our region has been up against and where we’re going. SRQ MEDIA extends gratitude to our wonderful panelists and presenters for the invigorating conversation and for the important contributions they make to our community.

The SB2 State of the Regional Economy panel. Photo by Wyatt Kostygan.

Ending the symposium on a celebratory note, the SB2 State of the Regional Economy symposium concluded with an awards ceremony to honor the 2019 Localpreneurs of the Year. We recognized locally-owned business owners who have earned the respect of their peers in the following areas: corporate acumen, innovation, philanthropy, leadership and community impact. Congratulations to our five winners and to all of our honorees and nominees!

Pete Petersen of Dealers United, one of the five 2019 Localpreneurs of the Year. Photo by Wyatt Kostygan.

We could not have had such a successful symposium without the support of our incredible sponsors: our SB2 host sponsor Hyatt Regency Sarasota, and audio visual sponsor PSAV. Thanks for being excellent hosts. We also extend thanks to our incredible sponsors: 2018-2019 series sponsors Mariash Lowther Wealth Management and JFCS of the Suncoast, and to our event sponsors, The Resort at Longboat Key Club, Waterworks Sarasota, Seaside National Bank & Trust, and Firmo Construction.

The audience at the Hyatt Regency Sarasota. Photo by Wyatt Kostygan.

Don’t miss our next SB2 symposium, Transformative Philanthropy on Thursday July 25, 2019. We’ll explore the organizations and individuals who are changing the face of the nonprofit world through innovative approaches, strategic alliances and groundbreaking initiatives that foster and employ engagement to make a difference.  You can purchase your tickets in advance HERE

Click here to read the article about SB2| State of the Regional Economy in the SRQ DAILY. A gallery of images from SB2 State of the Regional Economy is available online here.

For tickets and other event inquiries, visit SRQSB2.com or contact us at 941-365-7702 x221.

To become an SB2 series sponsor or a specific symposium sponsor, contact Ashley Grant at 941-365-7702 x205.

We hope to see you there!

SRQ MAGAZINE—Live Local. Love Local | Sarasota and Bradenton

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