A Regional Approach to Economic Development in Southwest Florida

A regional approach to economic development in Southwest Florida
By Gary Tasman

While orthopedic surgical tool, devices and implants designer and manufacturer Arthrex got its start in Munich in 1981, its founder and president, Reinhold Schmieding, knew that to succeed in the long run, he would have to set up shop in America. His goal? To find a “resort environment” location, complete with beautiful beaches, culture, good weather, natural beauty, and shopping and dining. After searching Southwest Florida, he landed on Collier County, one of the most sought-after relocation destinations.

Another global giant, information technology research and advisory firm Gartner, also scoured Southwest Florida and other states before landing on a location in Gateway in Fort Myers. While it started its operations here in 1998, it now has more than 1,000 employees, making it the company’s largest office location worldwide, exceeding even its headquarters in Stamford, Connecticut.

Others who took that same cue include:
• Connecticut-based The Camuto Group, formally based in Connecticut, bringing part of its footwear fashion business to Bonita Springs.
• Pennsylvania-based Wawa Inc. brought several of their convenience stores and gasoline station destinations to Southwest Florida.
• New Jersey transplant HERC Rentals also moved its headquarters to Bonita Springs.
• And, of course, Fortune 500 company Hertz Corporation — the first major corporation to relocate to Lee County — moved into its new headquarters in Estero about three years ago.

Regionalism Works in Southwest Florida
Titans of industry like these and others are taking a classic regionalism approach to relocation, first taking a broad sweeping look of our area and what that means to their business, personnel and families as a region. Then, focusing in on a specific city or town in which to call home. It’s a concept that is working remarkably well for our communities, and bringing some pretty impressive players, jobs, economic impact, community philanthropy and more to Southwest Florida.

Cushman & Wakefield Commercial Property Southwest Florida is seeing the impact big brands like these and others from afar are making locally as they look to secure their piece of paradise in the region. Among them:
• Ameriprise Financial planners and advisors.
• Konica Minolta, offering software, printers and other business solutions.
• Iron Mountain, a global business offering services to store and protect business documents.

Economic Development
This regionalism view is a very important part of the economic development of any area, including Southwest Florida. That regional approach means Southwest Florida must continue to work on being a favorable destination, offering a diverse community appeal to continue our journey of economic development and pro-business atmosphere. There is no question that we compare very nicely, if not better, than many other regions based on a number of factors and characteristics that the regionalism approach to relocation entails.

’Best of’ Cities
Southwest Florida has continually ranked high on a number of lists that measure anything from quality of life to healthy cultures to job growth. For example, Forbes recently ranked Naples No. 1 and Cape Coral No. 3 for future job growth anywhere in the United States. Forbes’ 2017 list of America’s fastest-growing cities also has the Cape Coral-Fort Myers metropolitan area the top spot. Furthermore, Moody’s Analytics expects the population of the Cape Coral-Fort Myers area to expand even faster than last year, and also projects that it will have the highest rates of employment growth and output growth this year, thanks to expanding hospitality and housing markets.

Also, the Naples-Immokalee-Marco Island metro area was tops in contentment for the second consecutive year, according to the Gallup Healthways Well-Being Rankings that were made public in March 2017.  The survey says residents there feel safer than residents in any other community in the nation.

Best-Performing Cities Index
Another testament to the Cape Coral – Fort Myers Metropolitan Statistical Area is its No. 15 ranking in the Milken Institute’s Best-Performing Cities index of larger cities across America that came out in December 2016. The index uses metrics such as job creation, wage gains and technology developments to evaluate the relative growth of these geographical regions. MSAs on the list have cohesive strategies that allow them to distinguish themselves from others, and in fact may be a model for other regions to emulate for success.

Lee County
Lee County alone has 50-plus miles of great beaches, plus other natural beauty that of course plays a part in a business’s desire to locate its headquarters (or some other entity) in Southwest Florida. But there are so many other considerations. Among them, just to name a few to illustrate the point:
• Available workforce — Lower unemployment rate.
• Economics — Favorable perks such as no state tax.
• Quality of life — Reasonable commuting times for the workforce; climate, including 260-plus days of sunshine; and a favorable cost of living versus other regions.
• Shopping and dining.
• The arts.
• Professional sports — Lee County is home to Major League Baseball’s Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins. Charlotte County hosts the Tampa Rays. All three teams also host minor league teams. And Germain Arena is home to the Florida Everblades, offering premier Double-A hockey.
• Technology connectivity.
• Transportation — Southwest Florida International Airport serving 8 million-plus travelers annually offers nonstop service to major gateways throughout the U.S. as well as Canada and Germany.
• Education — While the state’s 9th-largest district ranks 35th academically out of 67 districts in Florida, the Lee County School District Superintendent, Gregory Adkins, has reaffirmed the district’s goal of moving into the top five in the Sunshine State by 2020.
• Major ports — Access is under 2.5 hours to the major ports north and east of us.

From Individual Communities Come Regional Strength
We have many individual cities, towns, villages and counties that operate independently and want the best for their location. But we must remember that their individual economies are collectively related to one another. There is common interest and characteristics such as those identified above that we all share. Let’s not forget how each community is really a reflection of our overall region

As the third largest state in the nation with the fourth fastest-growing population according to December 2016 U.S. Census Bureau data, it is imperative that we continue along the path of looking at our entire region as one.

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