April 24, 2018


Florida Staff | 4/1/2002
All southwest Florida coastal communities, and even inland towns such as Sebring, are trying to accommodate the needs of both a growing population and responsible development. Growth-related issues are always in the public eye and seem unaffected by the economic slowdown.

But how each community deals with growth -- plans vary greatly -- affects neighboring communities. This impact is only beginning to be seen. For example, Sarasota County has the most rigid growth restraints in the region, using I-75 as the longtime urban boundary to keep the eastern county rural. Manatee County has had few growth restraints and has seen an explosion of development in its eastern portions parallel to where Sarasota has blocked it. Now Sarasota is considering opening up those lands to village-style developments, while protecting vast open lands in perpetuity.

It's controversial, but what Sarasota County decides as a growth-restraint leader may impact more than Sarasota and Manatee and set the bar for the other growing counties.

Key Trend: Unabated downtown and bayfront development has resulted in about $700 million of new construction in a relatively small area, led by the newly opened Ritz-Carlton and plans for more business high-rises to go with condos and hotels. City leaders are now having to deal with increasing traffic problems, which could be helped by construction of the new John Ringling Causeway over Sarasota Bay, replacing the old Ringling drawbridge. That is expected to move traffic into and out of downtown quicker.

Person to Watch: Michael McNees has replaced longtime City Manager David Sollenberger. McNees, formerly with Collier County, will have to deal with the fallout from the mammoth downtown development spree, revitalizing impoverished Newtown, repairing the tarnished image of the financially troubled Van Wezel Performing Arts Hall and implementing a controversial master plan for downtown.

Business to Watch: DNAPrint genomics is working on a high-tech solution to cut down on prescription drug reactions. The company has 14 employees -- half of them Ph.D.s -- working on matching a person's DNA to a prescription drug to eliminate negative reactions. The company is in the R&D stage. Meanwhile, a package of cholesterol-fighting drugs engineered by the company based on its research will be out much sooner, hitting a market that is huge.

Major Challenge: City leaders will need to follow through with the newly designated enterprise zone and redevelopment plan in Newtown, the largely African-American community north of downtown that has been riddled with drugs and violence. It has been an island of poverty in Sarasota's sea of prosperity, but city leaders believe the enterprise zone may be the critical building block for restoring the economy. "It's a great catalytic thing to spur economic development," says McNees.

Sarasota County
Key Trend: The ongoing battle for developing the largely rural lands east of I-75 continues to dominate politics and the public mind. County commissioners will vote this spring on a plan allowing multipurpose villages to be built east of the interstate, which has acted as an urban boundary line for decades. To entice developers and landowners to build village-style projects that retain large open spaces, the plan allows up to five times as many homes as currently are allowed to be built, causing controversy over roads and population.

Business to Watch: Small-business phone-maker Comdial Corp. has transformed a sharp industry downturn into brisk market share gain. Like others in the industry, Comdial has suffered a cash-flow problem and is struggling to pay suppliers. But while units shipped nationally in the small-business phone market tanked about 22% in 2001, Comdial's increased 18%, rocketing the company's market share, says Mark Lindsay, vice president of sales and marketing. When the market recovers, Comdial's revenues could soar.

Key Trend: A county charter that would give county officials more regulatory power within Bradenton and other cities is meeting with opposition and controversy and could undermine cooperative efforts. County Commissioner Joe McClash, a foe of open-ended development, says his proposal will eliminate expensive lawsuits and differences between the county and cities over new developments. Bradenton Mayor Wayne Poston calls it "a sad idea." The plan, if adopted, could have a major impact on development in Bradenton and throughout the fast-growing county.

Person to Watch: Former state Sen. Pat Neal is striking gold from the building boom in southwest Florida, planning 163 homes this year for Neal Custom Homes, up 15% from a year ago. With the onset of the Baby Boom retirees, he sees only better days ahead. "It's the retirement of the Boomers. They spend more. They buy all the bells and whistles," he says.

Business to Watch: The major alignment between Tropicana and Quaker will mean a loss of about 200 jobs in Bradenton, leaving more than 3,000. Company executives believe the merger of the marketing operations and combining with Quaker's Gatorade packers will both increase market share and reduce costs. "That will mean more money into product development," says Kristine Nickel, director of communication for Tropicana, the No. 1 juice company in the world and southwest Florida's largest private employer. Tropicana will finish its 145,000-sq.-ft. headquarters this summer.

Major Challenge: A shortage of skilled labor is making it difficult for companies
to find employees who can even assemble circuit boards. From small computer companies to giant manufacturers such as Tropicana, getting enough workers with minimum skills is an ongoing challenge. In response, Manatee Community College is planning a $4.7-million technology training center in eastern Manatee on the Schroeder-Manatee Ranch.

Manatee County
Key Trend: Manatee County has become a prime example of leap-frogging sprawl. But a new effort at planning for growth, while protecting quality of life, is creating a sense of unity and cooperation from all of the cities and the county. "We're getting all parties to the table. The challenge is to do it right," says Nancy Engel, executive director of the Economic Development Council of the Manatee Chamber of Commerce.

Business to Watch: PPi Technologies Inc. is benefiting from the rising demand from stores for goods shelved in stand-up pouches, now widely used by the likes of Famous Amos cookies and Cheese-its. PPi, which makes the machinery that makes the pouches, has seen its sales soar from $250,000 in its first year, 1996, to $10 million last year, placing it among the Deloitte & Touche Fast 50 for Florida. Owner Charles Murray sees increased demand from makers of beverages and microwaved food.

Key Trend: The redevelopment of the historic downtown core has resulted in the Fifth Avenue South section -- the traditional Main Street of Naples -- becoming a mix of commercial and residential uses. More than 30 upscale housing units have been built or are being built above existing commercial space in the past few years, which was unheard of previously, says Ann Walker, senior planner for the city planning department. The mixed use is part of a master plan designed by Andres Duany in 1994. "There's an incredible amount of rebuilding," Walker says.

Person to Watch: City Councilman Clark Russell's election could shift the balance of power on the council to pro-growth. Russell, vice president of Kepp's Men Shops, replaced the term-limited incumbent Fred Tarrant, who typically provided the margin in 3-2 votes that went against pro-growth foces. Russell, who resists the pro-growth label, "will be the determining factor," says no-growth councilman Joe Herms.

Business to Watch: F.N.B. Corp. has quickly become the largest bank-holding company based in Florida. The company, formed in 1974 in a living room, began 2001 with $3.9 billion in assets. But two acquisitions in January pushed the assets to $6.7 billion and nearly doubled the number of Naples employees to more than 600, according to Clay Cone, vice president of corporate affairs.

Major Challenge: Insecurity by company executives over the direction of the economy is a major factor slowing growth, says Susan Pareigis, executive director of the Collier County Economic Development Council. "Many firms are taking a wait-and-see attitude," she says. Companies are holding off on capital spending such as equipment purchases and construction and are being cautious about adding workers until they are more confident. "It's causing a lag in the economy," Pareigis says.

Collier County
Key Trend: Collier County is working with Lee and Charlotte counties to inventory their telecommunications infrastructure and determine weaknesses in the grid. "We want an uninterrupted transmission of data and voice," says Pareigis, of the Collier County Economic Development Council. The goal is to ensure, via duplicate lines and routing, that no businesses are ever cut off from being able to communicate. In addition, the county is pursuing campus-style commerce parks aimed at high-tech firms, with the telecommunication network as the backbone.

Business to Watch: Arthrex, a leader in research, product development and training for orthopedic surgeons and their patients, is considered one of the fastest-growing companies in the Naples area. Started in 1984, the company has become known for its innovative products. It now has offices in six countries and distributes its wares in more than 80 countries. The company, which is privately held and does not release sales or employment numbers, built a 35,000-sq.-ft. headquarters in 1996. It is now planning a 126,000-sq.-ft. facility to be constructed in 2003.

Fort Myers
Key Trend: The new Florida Gulf Coast Technology and Research Park adjacent to Florida Gulf Coast University and Southwest Florida International Airport is targeting biotechnology, software and internet companies. The final deal for the land was finished in December, and the first biotechnology company, Neogenomics Inc., is coming in, says Pamela Cox, communications manager for the county's economic development office. The airport's $386-million expansion and its free trade zone will complement the new research park.

Person to Watch: Dominik Goertz, a German developer who has been renovating historic but dilapidated buildings in the central district, is a key to Fort Myers' downtown revitalization. He's put more than $12 million into nine vacant buildings in recent years, and all are almost 100% leased. "He's doing exactly what we like to see done to revitalize our downtown," says Don Paight, of the Downtown Redevelopment Organization.

Business to Watch: A three-person company, Poly Advertising, has big plans. It has developed a touch-screen TV kiosk that allows people to find hotels, restaurants and other attractions in a community. Users can get directions, rates, pictures and even videos. Poly Advertising is licensing the technology in Orlando and Nashville, Tenn., and hopes to have Miami and Tampa by the end of the year, says George Jachode, owner and president.

Major Challenge: The steep decline in tourism is continuing to hurt the economy. "Tourism is off, flat-out," says Armando Nargi, president of the Lee County Chamber of Commerce. "Everybody is hurting in tourism, and we are still tourism-based."

Lee County
Key Trend: Lee County is beginning to attract larger companies on a regular basis, says Pamela Cox, of the county's economic development office. "It used to be small to medium companies." She says the events of Sept. 11 have sped up that trend, with businesses eyeing "safe, clean, family-friendly communities."

Business to Watch: The world's leading direct magazine distributor to bookstore chains and independent retailers, Source Interlink, is moving its headquarters to Lee County from St. Louis, bringing about 240 jobs. The company distributes magazines to more than 10,000 retailers in 68 countries. It will move into a 100,000-sq.-ft. building in the Riverview Corporate Center in a few months. Forbes ranked Source Interlink one of the fastest-growing companies in both 1999 and 2000.

Charlotte County
Key Trend: The county is taking an active role in attracting companies, with the county commission touting Charlotte's low-priced land and affordable living, says Lane Diedrick, senior vice president of SunTrust Banks Gulf Coast and chamber of commerce president.

Business to Watch: The Charlotte County Airport and the 2,000 acres of undeveloped land surrounding it are poised to become the economic development engine over the next decades. Two business parks under construction will open this year, perfect for distribution and manufacturing, says Gary Quill, executive director of the airport authority. The airport is close to two I-75 interchanges, and land is inexpensive. SunTrust's Diedrick calls it the county's "golden chip."

DeSoto/Highlands/Lee Counties
Key Trend: The greater Sebring area is making the transition to a midsize city. Its population, growing annually by 3%, has reached about 40,000. The evidence also is in retail demand, with the construction of a Home Depot, Outback Steakhouse and a Super Wal-Mart. Similar advancements are visible in Avon Park and Arcadia.

Business to Watch: Gate Packages Unlimited is growing rapidly, from two employees a year ago to seven now and probably 20 by the end of the year, says Jim Brigham, sales and plant manager. The company makes gates for gated communities nationwide.

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