University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee



Sarasota-Manatee Regional Chancellor Karen Holbrook will lead Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp.

By Marc R. Masferrer, University Communications and Marketing

USF Sarasota-Manatee Regional Chancellor Karen Holbrook will be the next chair of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp., as the organization works to develop aviation-related industries in the area.

The timing is perfect, not only because the Sarasota-Manatee campus sits across U.S. 41 from Sarasota-Bradenton International Airport, one of the fastest-growing airports in the world, but also because of the work Holbrook already has done to develop an aviation workforce in the region, said Sharon Hillstrom, president and CEO of the Bradenton Area EDC.

Holbrook, a former president of Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University in Daytona Beach, speaks often about USF’s plans to help fill the local talent pipeline with needed aviation workers, including working with the USF College of Engineering to start an aeronautical engineering program at the Sarasota-Manatee campus.

karen holbrook

University of South Florida Sarasota-Manatee Regional Chancellor Karen Holbrook

Developing the local aviation industry is a goal shared with the Bradenton Area EDC, Hillstrom said.

“Dr. Holbrook has become a key resource in our work to develop an aviation ecosystem for the Bradenton area,” she said.

Holbrook, whose term as board chair starts in January, said her work on growing the presence of aviation-related businesses in the Bradenton area is just one example of USF’s involvement with economic development matters. The Bradenton Area EDC works to attract and retain high-skill, high-wage jobs for area residents, and connect established businesses to the resources they need to grow on the south shore of Tampa Bay.

“We value the partnerships we have built with the Bradenton EDC, and with all businesses and other organizations that share a similar vision for the betterment of the community,” Holbrook said.

Holbrook has convened roundtable discussions with USF faculty on how the aviation sector could be structured, and has worked with the School District of Manatee County on technical programs in aviation, augmented with USF workshops to develop various aspects of the needed workforce.

“Dr. Holbrook has a unique understanding of the workforce development needs of aviation businesses,” Hillstrom said. “Aviation will continue to be a major focus for us into 2024 and beyond. For that reason and more, the time is right for Dr. Holbrook’s leadership as chair of our board.”

Holbrook said she looks forward to leading the EDC during the coming year, especially after USF was admitted to the elite Association of American Universities this past summer. AAU membership, Holbrook said, recognizes and further elevates the stature of the only preeminent global research university with an academic presence in the Bradenton area, making it an even better location for new and expanding businesses the Bradenton Area EDC assists.

“USF Sarasota-Manatee is the Bradenton area’s research university, so our success is very much part of the success of the larger community,” she said. “We feel it is our responsibility to do all we can to promote and grow this area’s reputation as a great place to live and do business, whether by providing opportunities for young people to continue their education close to home or preparing graduates to fill in-demand jobs in cybersecurity, education, hospitality, nursing, risk management and insurance and other fields.”

USF Sarasota-Manatee is a key player in local economic development efforts by, for example, ensuring degree programs align with the needs of local employers and the prospective companies the Bradenton Area EDC is trying to attract to the area, Hillstrom said.

“The campus’s association with a major, world-class research institution is an attractive asset to corporate location decision-makers, and our community has benefited directly from research conduct by USF for the EDC,” she said. 

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