When Mote Marine Laboratories' aquaculture business was sold to an affiliate of Seven Holdings, a local venture-capital and private-equity firm, the rise of Sarasota's sustainability sector became more apparent.
"We evaluated trending industries and we think this has tremendous future potential," said Chris Cogan, Seven Holdings' general partner.
Cogan will become CEO of the Healthy Earth brand, which the aquaculture business will fold into. "We'll make a commercial-size operation and it will be a huge contribution to the Sarasota community."
Tammy Kovar has seen rapid growth in her Biological Tree Services firm, going from six employees three years ago to 35 today and continuing to hire regularly.
"Sarasota's kind of a hotbed for sustainability," Kovar said. "People know what you are talking about."
A long-held desire of Sarasota County economic development leaders has been to diversify the local economy so we are less dependent on a few industries that are highly cyclical.
Sustainability, represented by Healthy Earth, Biological Tree Services and many others, is one of the three key strategic focus areas identified by the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County, which aims to diversify our economy while providing good-paying jobs at high-growth companies.
The goal is to focus on sustainable development that makes the market an ally in creating economic prosperity and environmental quality.
Sarasota County has assets in place.
Mote Marine Laboratory is a key one, along with a growing core of specialized companies in arboriculture, aquaculture, landscape and building design and integrated water and soil management.
Last year's partnership between the University of South Florida and Mote to launch an innovative four-year bachelor's degree program added to Sarasota County's asset base and further burnished our strong reputation as an environmentally friendly community.
Drawing on the research asset base, Mote and USF, which have a long history of joining forces on research in the Gulf of Mexico, created a landmark partnership in 2009 to obtain grants for the aquaculture operation. Now, this sector is at an exciting stage because of the purchase and capitalization of the aquaculture facilities.
Cogan, with partner Russ Vernon, are pursing three goals for Healthy Earth's aquaculture business: sustainable for the environment by exacting a minimal toll on the environment; sustainable for business by being profitable; and sustainable for people by bringing healthier options to the market.
The sustainable sector brings with it devotees to a cause -- a growing cause.
Like many in Sarasota County, Kovar, of Biological Tree Services, believes deeply in being environmentally responsible. "No one does what we do," she says. "We're changing the world, one yard at a time."
That "change the world" attitude in environmental sustainability is a driver and a market -- reflected in Biological Tree Services' tremendous growth.
But there are many other examples.
Osprey Biotechnics is another sustainable products producer in Sarasota County, but one that is in an entirely different sector.
One of its successful products is BioOne, a patented beneficial bacteria to naturally degrade waste oils and fats. It has both commercial uses in restaurants and manufacturing and consumer uses in the home. Its products also were used to mitigate the BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
Another Osprey Biotechnics product is Micrograin Soil, a fertilizer that uses a blend of microbes to increase yields naturally without the need for nitrogen-based fertilizer, which pollutes waterways when it runs off, causing dangerous algae blooms.
"Sustainable is an advantage for our customers to use," said Sean Griffin, director of marketing for Osprey Biotechnics. He said the market is growing, and Osprey Biotechnics has a pipeline of products to bring to market.
The Mote/Seven Holdings transaction, as well as the progress of these other businesses, are encouraging news for the sustainability sector.
As a community, we need to make sure we have in place what is required for these businesses to continue flourishing.
Contact Mark Huey, president and chief executive officer of the Economic Development Corp. of Sarasota County, at mhuey@edcsarasotacounty .com. EDC is the public/private partnership leading economic diversification efforts by working with community and regional partners.