By Gary Tasman

Our region has become one of the most popular in the nation for starting new businesses and relocating existing ones, thanks to high inbound migration numbers during the pandemic and a pro-business tax environment in Florida. Melanie Schmees, Director of Business and Economic Research for the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, states that the Collier County Economic Development Office website has seen a ten-fold increase in inquiries from businesses wanting to relocate to Collier County since the start of the pandemic.

Certainly, the Naples area is seeing growth. Thanks to a strategic position midway between Florida’s two largest metropolitan areas, Collier County is seeing growth in transportation, warehousing and logistics in particular. As an example, construction is underway on a 937,000 square foot distribution facility for Uline, which when completed will bring more than 200 jobs to Collier County. But other companies seeking to build in the area are finding challenges.

Industrial Supply versus Demand in Collier County

Demand for commercial property – particularly industrial property – is far outpacing supply in the Naples area. Our Southwest Florida Industrial Marketbeat report for Q4 2021 indicated that out of more than 10 million square feet of industrial inventory in Collier County, less than 50,000 square feet were vacant. And while a number of properties are under construction, according to Schmees, those facilities are already 97% leased.

Many believe that Collier County lacks developable land, which is a fallacy. The county actually has several areas that are identified for potential growth and development. However, much of the County’s available land is neither site-ready nor entitled for commercial/industrial use, translating into high costs and long lead times for anyone hoping to develop on these parcels.

Schmees was our guest on the What’s Developing in Southwest Florida podcast recently, and acknowledged the entitlement and readiness issue: “These companies, they know where they want to be and they need to make the decision fast,” she said. “That’s something that Economic Development and the County Commission is recognizing, the need to really form relationships with developers and with landowners to have sites ready for when these projects want to come, instead of carrying it out through a multi-year process.”

Areas for Potential Industrial Growth

The inland region, east of I-75 and north of Alligator Alley, has been the most rapidly growing area in Collier County for more than a decade. Infrastructure improvements to Immokalee Road, as well as the extension of Golden Gate Parkway, have made eastern Collier County easier to reach. Census data shows that while Collier County’s overall population increased by 17% over the last decade, the zip codes east of I-75 experienced an estimated 26% increase in population growth during the same time period.

The town of Ave Maria is certainly the posterchild for Collier County growth. Little more than agricultural fields just a decade ago, Ave Maria is now a bustling community with a population of more than 15,000. It will be joined by a number of neighboring communities in the County’s rural land stewardship area. The town of Big Cypress and its Villages: Rivergrass, Longwater and Bellmar will all soon be under development by Collier Enterprises.

With thousands more residents moving to eastern Collier County over the next several years, the need for jobs—particularly in the industrial sector, will grow. The Economic Development Council of Collier County estimates the County will need an additional 3,685 acres of new business park lands by 2030. One of the most logical locations for that industrial growth is in Immokalee, where land is inexpensive, and a ready workforce is already in place. Central Immokalee is just 15 minutes from Ave Maria, and a mere 25 minutes from the future Big Cypress villages.

“I think Immokalee is a prime area for investment opportunity as it relates to incentives and programs,” said Schmees. “Immokalee is a [Collier County] opportunity zone and a [USDA] promise zone. It has an FTZ for that foreign trade. Figuring out how to stack those and take advantage of those opportunities out there as a developer or investor, it’s a prime area to do that.”

Part of the challenge is that while many recognize Immokalee’s potential, no business or developer wants to be the first to plant their flag. According to Schmees, investors and developers want a model or case study to follow—someone who has already made successful strides in the area.

For decades, tourism and hospitality have been the major drivers of Southwest Florida’s economy—especially in the area’s coastal regions like Naples. However, our regional economy is becoming more diverse, a topic we’ve discussed here before. Diversification of our economy creates the opportunity to increase wage capacity in Southwest Florida while maintaining our excellent quality of life. For Collier County to reach its full potential, it needs to continue working with investors and developers to take a chance on the eastern part of the county, and particularly Immokalee.

If you are a commercial property investor or developer looking to capitalize on eastern Collier County’s ongoing growth, contact the Commercial Property Experts at Cushman & Wakefield | Commercial Property Southwest Florida by calling 239-489-3600 or by completing the form below.

For more information about development in Collier County, listen to episode 3 of the What’s Developing in Southwest Florida podcast.

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