Background on the Economic Development Strategic Plan
In 2007 the City adopted its first Economic Development Strategic Plan. Since that time, so much has changed in our local economy as well as the national and global economy, that it has become necessary to take a fresh look at how the City should adjust and adapt to the economic forces that impact and shape its economic development vision, mission and goals.
The City of North Port is located in the southern section of Sarasota County on Florida’s Gulf Coast midway between Tampa and Fort Myers. The City includes just over 100 square miles of area and its population has doubled during the last decade currently surpassing more than 57,000 people.
On June 24, 2011, the North Port City Commission granted the Economic Development Division permission to go forward with an update of the City’s Economic Development Strategic Plan during a joint meeting of the Commission and the Business and Economic Development Advisory Board (BEDAB). Because so much has changed in our local economy as well as the national and global economy, it has become necessary to take a fresh look at how the City should adjust and adapt to the economic forces that impact and shape its economic development vision, mission and goals.
The successful firm will be expected to manage and direct the strategic plan update process including:
a. assessment of the existing Plan and other relevant studies and data resources;
b. schedule and facilitate appropriate forums to engage the community and solicit stakeholder input;
c. gather and synthesize data, community input and other information
d. prepare preliminary findings report and make presentations to BEDAB EDSP Task Force and BEDAB Executive Committee; and
d. prepare the final plan for approval by the North Port City Commission.
History. In September 2007, The City of North Port adopted its first Economic Development Strategic Plan, establishing a framework for the economic development mission, vision and goals the City would seek to implement over the next 3-5 years. The plan provided specific actions and timetables and reflected the collective and shared vision for the City that resulted from extensive community stakeholder involvement. North Port’s first year under the strategic plan, 2008, was devoted to organization, putting in place the specific economic development infrastructure recommended by the plan. This included hiring a professional economic development manager; creating a 26-member BEDAB Board [See Exhibit A for background on BEDAB] along with its executive committee; electing a chair and vice chair; and establishing two task forces that would focus on issues around business development and landowner, developer, government relations.
According to the plan, there was also a need to forge better relationships with state organizations, local governments and economic development organizations (EDO’s). Another important need identified in the plan was development of ways to market and brand North Port as a choice location for business. Business attraction and the creation of incentives were also addressed within the strategic plan.
Target Industries. In 2009, efforts moved from organization to planning. The City developed a business assistance program designed to help existing businesses; identified five target industries [health care, education, light manufacturing ; hospitality; and retail trade] that are the focus of North Port’s business recruitment efforts; and developed strategies to better market and promote the City. The task forces that operated under the auspices of the BEDAB advisory board developed recommendations that were adopted by City Commission relating to improvements in the City’s plan review and permitting procedures, and also recommended a set of incentives that could be made available for business attraction.
Community Involvement. Within the same year, Vision North Port, a citizen-based community organization started a series of charrettes, surveys and online polls, and various community participation to elicit North Port citizen participation to share their vision for their city. From the citizens' participation was culled the Imagine North Port Citizen Master Plan. Concurrently, the City also began a branding process that would ultimately lead to the creation of the City’s brand platform using a new logo and strap line [Achieve Anything!] to help market our brand locally, nationally and internationally.
Small Business Assistance Program. Under the business assistance program the City established an Entrepreneurial Academy aimed at providing training and technical assistance to aspiring entrepreneurs who want to start and successfully manage a small business; a Lunch & Learn workshop series for existing businesses to help them hone their business skills; and a Revolving Loan Guarantee Fund to provide access to capital to local businesses who find it difficult to obtain financing for their companies.
Economic Development Marketing. In 2010, many of the City’s economic development activities were being fully implemented. North Port launched its branding program to help establish the City’s name in the region, nationally and internationally. Our brand platform defines us as a young, growing community with unlimited potential. We view ourselves as the City where anything is possible and where you can achieve anything! Our new logo coincides with our youthful mindset image and our modern, 21st Century vision. The new brand image and platform has been tested through various advertising mediums including, full-page ads in magazines; online banner advertising; event marketing; and a campaign aimed at business attraction featuring ads in Florida airports in Miami, Orlando, Sarasota and Punta Gorda, giving the City tremendous exposure to vacation travelers, business travelers and international travelers. In addition, we have invested in local television media in order to create awareness of our brand and the assets and amenities the City has to offer to business and developer prospects. The City’s economic development staff participates in a variety of event marketing opportunities such as, trade shows, conferences, sponsorships, etc. In January 2011, the City adopted its first strategic marketing plan that allows us to implement our marketing efforts in more cohesive and cost-effective fashion, and be able to measure their results.
Early Successes. Since 2008, North Port has been able to have success in each of its target industry sectors. In health care, we celebrated the opening of a state-of-the-art emergency room facility that is operated by Sarasota Memorial Hospital. This project has helped us attract over 100 health care professionals in a variety of medical specialties. North Port seeks to further diversify its employment base and business sector by attracting light manufacturing firms to the area. In December of last year the City and Sarasota County provided incentives to the Adams Group, a high-tech, commercial cabinet maker that will make nearly $5 million in capital investment and provide 102 jobs over the next five years. The hospitality sector has always been important to Florida’s economy, and North Port wants to tap into the dollars spent by snowbirds, tourists, and vacationers. In late December of 2010, the City in partnership with Sarasota County, purchased Warm Mineral Springs, an 81-acre site that includes one of the most mineral rich springs in the world and is visited annually by hundreds of vacationers from eastern Europe, particularly from the Ukraine and Russia. As we develop Warm Mineral Springs and other hospitality assets, we will seek to attract hotel development. We have already completed a hotel feasibility study.
Most of the City’s current businesses are either in the retail or service sector, but we have targeted retail trade in order to attract retail goods and services that are not currently available in the North Port market. As a new, young community, we seek to have more variety among our retail offerings. North Port has seen the construction of a new retail center which brought 120,000 sq.ft. of new retail space to the City. At build-out, this project will boast a total of 340,000 sq.ft. of new retail space.
Ambassador Program. The City of North Port continues down the road we started in 2007 by continuing our programs to retain and assist existing businesses; building on the relationships and activities that aid our business recruitment efforts; and expanding the frequency and reach of our marketing and advertising programs. The City has an Ambassador Program to allow local business owners and residents to become actively involved in marketing the assets and amenities that make North Port a great place to live, work and play. The Ambassador Program is an important extension of the City’s overall branding and marketing effort.