Rational commercial growth in Southwest Florida

By Shawn Stoneburner

More than 100 years ago, our area’s most famous seasonal resident, Thomas Edison, famously said “There is only one Fort Myers, and 90 million people are going to find it out.” Ever since, Southwest Florida has struggled with its own success; we perpetually play catch-up to build infrastructure required to provide jobs and services for the residents who continue to move here in droves.

Commercial development in the 1970s and 1980s focused on our coastal areas and US-41, catering primarily to sun-seekers and retirees. In the 1990s and 2000s, commercial development boomed in South Lee and North Collier Counties, thanks to plentiful available land and relatively low costs. Yet our largest population centers, Cape Coral and Lehigh Acres, are nowhere near the bulk of our region’s jobs.

As a result of this irrational pattern of growth, the average one-way commute time in Lee County is now 42 minutes, according to Lee County Economic Development. That’s significantly higher than the commute times in many similar-sized metropolitan areas around the country.

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Fortunately, there’s good news for those of us stuck in traffic every morning. Employers are beginning to realize that it makes good financial sense to move their businesses closer to their workers. A 2018 study by global staffing firm Robert Half discovered that nearly one-quarter of American workers have left a job because of a bad commute. That translates to tens of thousands of dollars in hiring and training expenses and lost productivity per year even for small businesses, and millions of dollars annually for large employers.

As a result, we’re seeing a rationalization of our marketplace across Southwest Florida. In Lee County, jobs are migrating closer to the center of the county, with the I-75, Alico Road, and Daniels Parkway corridors leading the way. This central region of Lee County, with close proximity to Southwest Florida International Airport (RSW), is seeing exponential growth from both existing businesses and newcomers to our area.

Commercial property in this area is booming. Land in close proximity to RSW already houses some of Southwest Florida’s largest employers, including Florida Gulf Coast University and Gartner. Massive new facilities for Scottlynn USA, NeoGenomics, and Alta Resources are moving into the neighborhood, and companies from across the nation are poised to follow. Central Lee County is on the short list for substantial new manufacturing, research and development, office, call center and distribution facilities.

The anticipated result is 45,000 new jobs coming to Southwest Florida in the next five years and another growth spurt for our region. But unlike past growth spurts, today’s more rational market will be prepared for it. The new air traffic control tower and runway at RSW will help the airport accommodate more commercial traffic for these businesses, and new transportation corridors like the Daniels and Alico Road extensions are already improving commutes, particularly for Lehigh Acres residents.

“The goal is not to grow just for the sake of growing. We want to achieve targeted growth that improves the quality of life for our residents,” says John Talmage, Director of Lee County Economic Development. “For example, right now the cost of commuting and maintaining a vehicle make up close to 25 percent of household expenses for people in Lehigh. But as jobs move north, those expenses decrease dramatically. Car costs will be closer to 10 percent of household expenses. That’s a considerable upgrade in quality of life.”

Demand for property in central Lee County is high, and commercial property investors know that our supply of developable land is low because of the environmental sensitivity of our region. For owners of property near RSW, Daniels Parkway, or Alico Road, your acreage has never been more desirable for development. Our new, more rational marketplace has created an ideal time to consult with a broker and take advantage of Southwest Florida’s next growth spurt.

The professionals at Cushman & Wakefield Commercial Property Southwest Florida are an excellent resource as you consider your options. Cushman & Wakefield’s brokers have extensive local market knowledge and best-in-class data and analytics to guide your decision-making. Contact us for a complimentary, no-obligation property valuation by calling 239-829-5400 or contact-us.

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