Why six entrepreneurs moved their companies to Sarasota.

-By Abby Weingarten. Photography by Barbara Banks

Long known as a beautiful resort and retirement destination, Southwest Florida has become a sought-after business destination as well. The region is rapidly rebounding from the recession, and local economic development officials have much to crow about these days.

Major multimillion-dollar initiatives, such as Bradenton’s  IMG Academy expansion, Port Manatee’s partnership with Brazil, the transformation of Nathan Benderson Park into an international rowing facility and the construction of the 880,000-square-foot upscale University Town Center mall, are putting Sarasota and Manatee on the national and global map.

Population is growing again, too. Manatee County’s population expanded to 333,895 in 2012 from 322,833 in 2010, according to the latest estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau. Sarasota County's population increased to 386, 147 from 379,448 in 2010.

Business CEOs and entrepreneurs are paying attention. The region recently ranked No. 92 on Forbes’ list of “The Best Places for Business and Careers,” outranking such places as West Palm Beach, New Orleans and even Chicago. Since 2009, the Bradenton EDC has worked with 59 companies that have either relocated to or expanded here, generating $467 million in capital investment and projected to create more than 3,500 jobs. In neighboring Sarasota County, the EDC has helped 31 companies invest $114 million with a promise of 2,360 jobs.

We asked six entrepreneurs why the move was good for them and their companies.

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JON CAPRIOLA, CEO OF LASER PEGS

Capriola launched his toy company in Sarasota in 2002 after moving from San Francisco. Laser Pegs, which sells battery-powered stackable blocks for children to retailers worldwide, currently has 22 employees (including subcontractors) and annual revenue of more than $20 million.

“Sarasota lends itself to sunshine and good weather, and my mood is happier here. It has been difficult to find the right people at times, but when you find them, they’re loyal. I hired someone from Arizona and moved him here, and once he got here, he was like, ‘This place is paradise.’ When my partners from abroad visit, they’re thrilled to be in a tropical atmosphere that’s like a vacation. Once we get our business out of the way, I take them on a boat ride on the Intracoastal Waterway. San Francisco was cold, rainy and expensive. This is wonderful.”

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STEPHEN JAYNES, COO OF XBYTE TECHNOLOGIES

XByte Technologies, a premier reseller of Dell computer equipment, was founded in 2001 in Gainesville and moved to Bradenton in 2006. XByte currently has 34 employees (a jump from 10 in 2010), and its revenue has increased 40 percent annually for the past three years, thanks to a newly hired sales force and improved marketing.

“In the Bradenton-Sarasota area, we don’t have the [amenities] that a major metropolitan city would, but it’s less expensive to operate here. We’ve overcome any difficulties by hiring good people and associating ourselves with local organizations. We’ve been very involved in the Bradenton Area Economic Development Council, and they have helped support our growth and vision. Also, there have been some significant tax advantages for us.”

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ED MARIN, CEO OF SOICHER-MARIN

Soicher-Marin is a high-end custom framing company that provides art and mirrors to interior designers for residential and commercial spaces. The 30-employee company moved to Sarasota from California in the fall of 2009.

“We took advantage of real estate values and a tax-friendly environment in Florida to escape the business-unfriendly, politically insane and otherwise onerous existence that is living in California. There is also a labor pool here waiting to find a home. With more businesses coming into town and hopefully none leaving, there will be an incentive for the young people in local colleges and technical schools to stay in Sarasota. Ringling College is a feeder for us; we’ve had eight to 10 employees and interns come from there with three still active here. We want to grow that channel.”

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MARK B. PENTECOST, CEO OF IT WORKS! GLOBAL

It Works! Global is a direct-sales company for beauty and wellness products. The company moved to Bradenton in 2011 from Grand Rapids, Mich., when Pentecost and his wife, Cindy, were looking for a place to entertain their sales force of independent distributors. The company has 77 employees, annual revenue of $200 million, and has experienced 1,047 percent growth in three years.

“Everyone was excited about the move to Florida, where we hold quarterly training events and entertain at the Pentecost Ranch in Myakka City or at Stoneybrook Golf Club. With our move to our new global headquarters on the Manatee River in the next few months, I’m expecting ‘drive your boat to work’ days and our team being able to fully live out our motto of being ‘more Jimmy Buffett than Warren Buffett.’ We like to have fun and keep things casual while staying innovative and cutting edge.”

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RUSSELL HANN, PRESIDENT OF HANN POWERBOATS

Hann Powerboats, with its 12 full-time employees and annual revenue of close to $10 million, makes boats for global security, military and law enforcement operations. Founded in 2001, the company moved to Sarasota in 2009 after operating out of a plant in Dade City and an office in Destin.

“We have great infrastructure in Sarasota; there are plenty of large buildings and access to roads that take us to the water, which is so important in boat building. The general business climate toward boat building is also very positive. Nearby, you have the greater Tampa area, a huge market for any business. Miami, Fort Lauderdale and Naples are only a few hours away, too. Finding skilled workers has been a challenge, but when I find them, I retain them. People don’t want to leave once they get to Sarasota.”

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KANAK BAL, VICE PRESIDENT OF BUSINESS DEVELOPMENT FOR HOT BRANDS INTERNATIONAL

A leader in ethnic restaurant concepts since 1992, Hot Brands International has its head office in Toronto. The company has 800 employees worldwide, operates more than 70 eateries, and incorporated its North American headquarters in Lakewood Ranch in 2010. Hot Brands USA has 30 employees, including those who work for its brand-new, fast-casual Chinese restaurant brand, Wok Chi.

“We had wanted to start business in the States for a while. The founder and president of the company [Bal’s father] has a home in Lakewood Ranch, and Tampa is actually one of the top test markets in the country for new restaurant brands. Since that’s what we do—develop restaurant concepts—Tampa’s proximity to Sarasota was a great bonus. Sarasota and the greater Tampa area is a tight-knit community, and we’re appreciative of the support and enthusiasm we’ve received for our venture, Wok Chi. It’s also a burgeoning city and we are excited to be a part of that growth", says Bal.

 

RELOCATING TO FLORIDA: WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

RESIDENCY. To establish residency, you must file a sworn statement with the clerk of the court showing that you maintain a permanent home in that county and that the home is your principal residence.

STATE TAXES. Florida levies a corporate income tax, but not a personal income tax.

LOCAL TAXES. Ad valorem taxes are based on the value of real estate or personal property and are paid at the end of each calendar year. Both Sarasota and Manatee counties offer abatement of ad valorem tax on real estate to qualifying companies.

WAGES. The minimum wage is $7.79 per hour.

INCORPORATION. New corporations, sole proprietorships, limited liability companies and fictitious names must register with the Florida Department of State, Division of Corporations. Companies with out-of-state operations must also register.

BUSINESS LICENSES. Several governments require entities doing business within their jurisdiction to obtain a Local Business Tax Receipt each year. Sarasota County levies a tax on people engaging in or managing a business, profession or occupation. Several cities levy additional occupational taxes. Unincorporated Manatee County does not levy the tax, also known as an Occupational License, but the city of Bradenton does, the amount of which varies based on the type of business.

DRIVERS LICENSE. The Florida Division of Motor Vehicles has offices throughout the state. Appointments are recommended. A new resident exchanging a valid out-of-state license for a Florida license must pass the vision and hearing tests only.

 

RESOURCES FOR RELOCATION

ESTABLISHING RESIDENCY

archive.flsenate.gov

BUSINESS INFORMATION

stateofflorida.com

COST OF LIVING CALCULATOR

suncoastbizresource.com

BUSINESS LICENSES AND INCORPORATION

floridaincorporationservice.com

DRIVERS LICENSES

flhsmv.gov

MANATEE COUNTY GOVERNMENT

mymanatee.org

MANATEE TAXES

taxcollector.com

SARASOTA COUNTY GOVERNMENT

scgov.net

SARASOTA TAX COLLECTOR

sarasotataxcollector.com

Information compiled by Jeff Widmer

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