Thursday, December 23, 2010

Tis the season (and year) to shop

The cash registers are ringing loudly around Manatee County with last-minute shoppers. If you finished up your shopping last weekend like I did, you may have thought "What bad economy?" as parking lots and store aisles were packed. I've talked with many local retailers this holiday season who say they are pleased with sales this year.

The Florida Retail Federation and the National Retail Federation expect holiday sales will be up 3 to 4 percent this year. But as I looked at how retailers have fared all year for tomorrow's retail industry report, I found they've been doing quite well in 2010.

Year-to-date sales tax collections through November for Manatee County total $226 million, up from $204.5 million over the same period in 2009, according to the Florida Department of Revenue. Click here for comparable tax collection data starting in 2003.

Retailers expect the spending momentum to carry over to 2011 as they believe the extension of the Bush-era tax cuts and a possible reduction in debit card transaction fees will put more money in consumers' pockets.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Economic series reports on jobs, Port Manatee

The Bradenton Herald's economic report continues today with a look at employment and a grim look at just how slow recovery will be in terms of getting people back to work. A highlight: state economists say Florida's unemployment rate, currently 12 percent, won't fall below 6 percent until 2019 or 2020.

Port Manatee will be a piece to Manatee County's economic recovery. On Thursday, the Bradenton Herald series will take a look at what's in store for Port Manate in the year ahead.

Port officials say 2011 will focus on infrastructure improvements and new marketing initiatives. Those priorities are a part of Port Manatee's bigger plan to capture more cargo that will be routed through the Panama Canal when its expansion is completed in 2014.

Update: Here's a link to the full story.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Tourism industry focuses on new strategies

The Bradenton Herald  launched a year-end series this week in which we take a look at how various industries in Manatee County fared and what's on the horizon for 2011. We started with an overall report on the local economy and its recovery.

Today, I took a look at tourism in this report. The industry saw the ramifications of one of the biggest oil spills in U.S. history, but the latest statistics show the area has come out without significant losses. The story also looks at what the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau and Sarasota Bradenton International Airport have planned to drive more travelers to the area.

We'll collect this two-week series here at and include updates and your comments.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Jobs Act creates larger loans

Small business owners in need of capital may want to look into the recent increases the U.S. Small Business Administration implemented for its loan programs.
The Small Business Jobs Act, signed by President Obama in September, allowed the SBA to implement higher maximum loan sizes for several of its lending programs. Here are a look at the changes:
— The 7(a) and 504 loans permanently increase to $5 million, from $2 million. Manufacturers and energy-related projects can access up to $5.5 million. The 7(a) program are primarily used by small businesses to fund large startup expenses such as machinery and equipment. The 504 program helps business finance real estate and equipment needs.
— Microloan limits permanently increase to $50,000 from $35,000. These loans are primarily for funding larger entrepreneurs' startup costs and assisting business owners in underseved communities.
— Export Express loans increase to $500,000, from $250,000.
— SBA Express loans increase to $1 million, from $350,000 for one year.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Business academy in session

In Saturday's Bradenton Herald, the business section features an article on budding entrepreneurs who attended the Central Economic Development Corp.'s small business workshop to learn the basics of starting a business.
The free workshop concluded Thursday but new business owners might want to check out the Gulf Coast Latin Chamber of Commerce's "Business Academy."
This month, the chamber started a short series of free classes that cover key issues for business owners and startup companies.
The next class in the series is at 8 a.m. Oct. 6 and will cover the legal terms of protecting inventions, business ideas, patents, trademarks and copyrights.
The class will be held at the ComCenters at 9040 Town Center Parkway in Bradenton, and those interested must register in advance at

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Buyer interest strong in Bradenton

Manatee County Realtors here's some news you can relay to potential home buyers: Bradenton is among the top 10 cities in the nation seeing a significant increase in buyer interest.
According to a list of top cities for home buyer interest, Bradenton ranks No. 4 in the nation.
Using data from the real estate tracker, CNBC reported that buyer interest in Bradenton has increased 41 percent from one year ago. Also, Bradenton had 1,038 home sales in the past month a 28.9 percent increase. Bradenton was one of four Florida cities on the CNBC list. Fort Lauderdale had the strongest home buyer interest with a No. 1 ranking, followed by West Palm at No. 3 and Saint Augustine at No. 6.

Monday, August 30, 2010

Grants to help minority businesses compete

Minority- and women-owned businesses in Manatee and Sarasota counties have an opportunity to get an inside look at how to better compete for federal highway contracts.

The Florida Department of Transportation was awarded a $600,000 grant to give these small businesses tips on procurement, securing bonds and business management when competiting for federal highway projects.

The grants were awarded to FDOT from the Federal Highway Administration's Disadvantaged Business Enterprise/Supportive Services program. To participate businesses must be certified by the Disadvantaged Business Enterprise by demonstrating that at least 51 percent of the business is owned by a minority or a woman.

For more information on the FDOT Disadvantaged Business Enterprise program and the grant funds available through the program visit

Wednesday, August 18, 2010

The power of a business plan

The Small Business Administration's latest lending statistics for major loan programs show a slight uptick in the number of startups that have been funded this year.

Through Aug. 13, the SBA has funded 9 percent more startups than this time last year under two of its most popular lending programs, the 7a loan and the America's Recovery Capital Loan. Bankers and small business consultants always reinforce the importance of a strong business plan, especially in this economy, as entrepreneurs seek funding.

As entrepreneurs most often focus on funding, the assistance that's often overlooked is educational resources. At, there are a series of free tools to help startups write a business plan. Under the Small Business Planner tab, you'll find a host of information on how to write a business plan, including a detailed, step-by-step guide as well as a free online audio tutorial with a slideshow presentation.

A business plan is essential a roadmap on how to develop and operate your company so don't overlook this valuable resource.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

The world wide web

The Bradenton Herald on Monday featured a few local businesses who are either working to launch their first website or are still resisting the technology.
For the story, I spoke with Pedro Perez, vice president of Nuevo Advertising Group, and he had some interesting tips to share on what entrepreneurs should consider when creating or maintaining a website for their business.
Keep these three major points in mind when developing a website: Form, function and design.
"If you're going to go about doing it yourself you have to make sure the website functions," Perez said. "Then there's form; how does it look and how does it come across to the consumer. Be it good or bad it's going to represent the company."
Finally, there's design. The website's design should be a good balance of well thought out graphics and content for consumers.
"If you have a very beautiful website that you cannot navigate or find content on it's not doing its job," Perez said. "If the business owner doesn't care enough to update (the website) then why should the consumer care."

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Making your way to entrepreneurship

It's not easy starting a new business. One of the first steps is deciding whether entrepreneurship is the right choice for you. Then you have to think about writing a business plan, government regulations and taxes, accounting and finding capital.
In June, I wrote a story about Manasota SCORE offering new courses to help those looking to start a business. The local chapter is offering those courses throughout the remainder of the year and you can view the course schedule at
Now another local non-profit is starting a similar program for aspiring and exisitng entrepreneurs. The Central Economic Development Center in Bradenton is starting a free eight-week workshop titled "How to Start a Small Business."
The first class is from 6 p.m.-9 p.m. Thursday at 1301 6th Ave. W., Suite 401, Bradenton. The classes be held at the same time every Thursday through Sept. 23.
To sign up for the workshop, call (941) 744-2984 or e-mail

Monday, August 2, 2010

Manatee officials to host small business forum

Times have been tough for small businesses. If you want to let your local officials know just how difficult business is, you can do so on Tuesday.
The Manatee County Board of Commissioners is hosting a forum at 1 p.m. Tuesday to hear from local businesses about the challenges they're facing. The forum will be an opportunity to discuss the economic challenges you're facing as a small business owner and any suggestions you have for how the county can help.
The free forum will run from 1 p.m.-3 p.m. at the Manatee Civic Center, One Haben Blvd., Palmetto.

Thursday, July 29, 2010

Talking about tourism

In the first BizBlast blog I told you about the free marketing Visit Florida is offering to tourism businesses. Now I want to tell you about some plans the Bradenton Area Convention and Visitors Bureau is working on to help local businesses with their overall marketing strategies.

In today's business section, you'll see the bureau hosted another tourism industry meeting on Wednesday. While those meetings have mainly addressed oil spill issues, interim director Elliott Falcione indicated he'd like future meetings to be educational workshops for tourism businesses.

Falcione said future meetings will aim to bring in local experts on online marketing, social media networking and other marketing strategies to help tourism businesses  reach their clients more effectively. In addition, Falcione said the meetings should be an opportunity for business owners to share what's helping or hurting their sales.

The next tourism industry meeting is scheduled for 3 p.m. Aug. 11 at Holmes Beach City Hall. That meeting will give you an opportunity to meet the bureau's new Executive Manager Debbie Meihls, who will oversee sales and marketing for the bureau and maybe learn a tip or two for your business.

Wednesday, July 28, 2010

Visit Florida offers free marketing help

If you have a tourism-related business, listen up. Visit Florida wants to give your company free marketing.

The state's official tourism marketing organization is offering all Florida tourism businesses a free listing on its website, The website is where tourists go to research their vacation destinations and scout hotels, restaurants and shopping venues.

Due to the BP oil spill, Visit Florida initiated the free listings program to help the state's tourism industry.

If your business feeds off tourism here's what you need to do:

Go to and click the "Register Me Online" icon toward the bottom of the page. Once approved, your business listing will be posted on Visit Florida and will include a business description, one photo and a link to your website. Free business listings will remain on until June 30, 2011.

The cost for these Visit Florida listings typically range from $95 a year to $1,500 a year so take advantage of the opportunity now. Last month, the website attracted 719,070 visitors.

That's quite a market to reach for free.