By Gary Tasman

Lee County, and Southwest Florida as a whole, is in an exciting era of growth and development. According to the Lee County Economic Development Office, there is more than 10 million square feet of commercial development in planning—the most we’ve ever seen at any time in our history. The addition of these 10 million square feet will increase our county’s inventory of commercial property by close to one-third over the course of this decade.

In past articles, we’ve attributed much of our region’s rapid growth to the “COVID Economy,” but millions of square feet of development were already in the works long before the pandemic began nearly two years ago. In fact, Lee County has been quite deliberate in establishing the foundation for our current development boom.

Beyond the Lee County Economic Development Office (EDO) itself, much of the credit goes to the Horizon Council and Horizon Foundation. While the EDO is a county department tasked with fostering business growth and expansion, the Horizon Council is a public-private partnership made up of some of the county’s most influential business and government leaders. Working hand-in-hand with the EDO, the Horizon Council’s 80-member board includes business leaders, representatives from all of the county’s municipalities and geographic chambers of commerce, and leaders from our education community.

The Horizon Council allows businesses to have a voice in the direction of our local economic development. Its fundraising arm is the Horizon Foundation, which raises money for EDO and Horizon Council activities and marketing.

“The Horizon Council is a place where we can have forums and panel discussions on different issues that may be affecting the business community,” explains John Talmage, Director of the Lee EDO. “Permits, regulatory structures, the cost of affordable housing. Issues that we really don’t have a one-stop place to talk about.”

This synergy between the business community and education and government organizations has sparked much of the diversification of our region’s economy. Florida Gulf Coast University, in particular, has been a key player in the region’s economic development. The school is dedicated to helping the region’s business community by preparing and training its future workforce and leaders.

“It’s such a testament to [FGCU President] Mike Martin,” says Talmage “He comes to all our Horizon Council meetings. Really, his leadership has allowed Dr. Sandra Kauanui and Dr. Aysegul Timur and that senior leadership team at FGCU to go out and do what they do best—start things.”

The collaboration between the business sector and local government entities is also allowing us to rationalize our county’s labor market. The majority of Lee County’s workforce lives to the east and west—Lehigh Acres and Cape Coral. However, our business corridor has historically run north-south along US-41. As a result, Lee County residents have the longest-distance average commute in the state of Florida. For a family in Lehigh Acres, the average commute time is 45 minutes. Moving jobs closer to the people that will fill them has been an economic development priority.

“How do we move the center of the job pool to the center part of the county, so that everyone has access to these jobs?” asks Talmage. “We’re working with the private sector, who owns the property, and working with our regulatory agencies. And we’ve really worked hard over the last several years to open up the Alico Road corridor, Treeline, and we’ll see the Skyplex next with the airport.”

Because the banking community and commercial real estate brokers like Cushman & Wakefield | Commercial Property Southwest Florida are also involved with the Horizon Council, the EDO is always acutely aware of where opportunities for financing and development lie. The County also plays a role by creating land zoning categories and establishing infrastructure to drive more jobs to these locations. As a result of the public-private collaboration, the EDO projects that within the next eight years, one of four jobs in Southwest Florida will be in the Airport/I-75 corridor— 125,000 jobs in total.

What business sectors are represented in Southwest Florida’s current economic development boom? Listen to Gary’s full interview with John Talmage on Episode 2 of our new podcast, “What’s Developing in Southwest Florida?”

Lee County—and Southwest Florida as a whole—is certainly open for business. The partnership between the EDO, Horizon Council and Horizon Foundation is not only attracting major companies to our region but is also nurturing our existing business community. The Commercial Property Experts at Cushman & Wakefield | Commercial Property Southwest Florida are proud to serve as Horizon Council members and investors, and we encourage anyone who wishes to have a voice in our community’s economic development to join us.

Are you considering relocating your business to Southwest Florida to take advantage of our exponential growth and surging opportunities? Contact our Commercial Property Experts to develop your strategy. We have extensive, market-specific knowledge and regulatory and entitlement expertise to help you achieve your relocation goals. Call us at 239-489-3600 or reach us using the form below.

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