Photo: RenderingRendering: Hertz's 250,000-sq-ft headquarters in Estero.
Florida's 2014 Economic Yearbook
A need for skilled workers in Southwest Florida
In Depth: Southwest Florida by the numbers
Sarasota / Sarasota County
At 11,184, sales of single-family homes and condos in 2013 were at their highest level since 2004, a record year when 11,482 sales were recorded. Construction picked up as well, as did tourism and health care, putting the region on track for the best year since 2006-07, says Steve Queior, president of the Greater Sarasota Chamber.Sarasota's manufacturing sector is also strong. Venice-based PGT Industries, which manufactures hurricane-resistant windows, is planning to add between 50 and 60 new workers to staff a 96,000-sq.- ft. Glass plant that is under construction. >> While the economy is back on steady footing, the region is grappling with shortages of skilled labor in construction and precision manufacturing. To combat the problem, the Greater Sarasota Chamber has teamed up with other civic and business groups, along with educational and workforce organizations, to launch an initiative called the Talent4Tomorrow Partnership.Queior says the effort, which has been funded by a grant from the Gulf Coast Community Foundation, aims to strengthen the education system to produce "exactly the number and types of workers that the local economy needs."
Voalte: The 6-year-old mobile health care technology company that develops hospital communications systems using customized smartphones has grown from 55 employees in January 2012 to about 130, and the company anticipates more hiring. The company's 38 clients include Sarasota Memorial Healthcare System, Massachusetts General Hospital, Cedars- Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles and Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago.
Bradenton / Manatee County
A strengthening housing market and record tourism are helping to fuel the recovery in Bradenton and Manatee County. Meanwhile, Air Product's new manufacturing facility at Port Manatee and the relocation of Feld Entertainment's global headquarters mean more jobs and capital investment in the county.Finding enough skilled workers for the fast-growing manufacturing sector can be a challenge, says Sharon Hillstrom, president and CEO of Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. But the region is meeting the challenge through collaborative initiatives, Hillstrom says.With funds provided by CareerEdge Funders Collaborative and Career Source Suncoast, the Manatee Technical Institute has been providing training for employees of companies like Air Products, a Fortune 300 global industrial gases company. The Pennsylvania company plans to ultimately employ 250 at its new Manufacturing plant. Hillstrom says the EDC is also working with the local school district and technical institute to come up with a strategy to ensure students are prepared for jobs that are coming.
IMG Performance: A unit of IMG Worldwide, IMG Performance operates a private athletic training and educational facility in Bradenton and is spending $197 million on a 15-year expansion of the IMG Academy. It has added a 5,000-seat stadium within a new multisport complex and a 500-bed residence hall to the campus. The next phase this year will include a fieldhouse adjacent to the stadium, another residence hall, a student center and additional academic buildings. IMG recently teamed up with the Hospital for Special Surgery, which provides orthopedic care and rehabilitation, to operate a sports therapy facility. IMG will assist HSS in determining protocols for injury prevention and in designing collaborative research initiatives to help athletes prevent and recover from injuries.
Fort Myers / Cape Coral / Lee County
The housing recovery is pushing up prices in the region — Lee County's median sales price climbed nearly 24% from 2012 to 2013 — and spurring an uptick in building permits. Efforts to diversify the region's job base beyond tourism and construction, meanwhile, are paying off with the recent arrival of Hertz and a notable expansion by Gartner, an information technology and research and advisory company that recently received $4.95 million in state and local incentives to add 400 jobs and build a $24-million office building in south Fort Myers.
Rick Michael, Lee County's new economic development director, says he looks forward to collaborating with neighboring counties of Collier, Charlotte, Hendry and Glades and exploring the potential for a regional marketing partnership. Michael says the organization is also doubling its focus for marketing and recruitment efforts in the Boston area and Minneapolis. Lee County is the spring training home of both the Boston Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins.
Hertz: Hertz's decision to move its headquarters from Park Ridge, N.J., to Estero is a game-changer for the region.The $9-billion car rental giant is expected to generate about 700 jobs in the short term, and as many as 1,000 jobs by 2017. While the company's 250,000-sq.-ft. headquarters building is under construction, employees are operating out of the Fifth Third Plaza in Naples and the former Robb & Stucky building in Bonita Springs.
Naples / Collier County
Naples' economy depends heavily on agriculture, real estate, health care and tourism, and all are on the upswing. Naples, Marco Island and Everglades National Park welcomed more than 1.6 million visitors in 2013 — a record number and 6.1% increase over 2012.
Spending and job creation were also up 12.3% and 4% in the region last year. "Our hoteliers are projecting even higher occupancies in 2014 and continuing demand increases in both the group meeting and leisure vacation sectors," says Jack Wert, who leads Collier County tourism promotion.
According to the Naples Area Board of Realtors, overall pending and closed sales for homes worth more than $300,000 increased by double digits in 2013. Condos were especially hot in 2013 — particularly in the $2 million and above category, where there was a 62% increase in sales closed.
The Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, the Naples Downtown Stakeholders Coalition, NCH Healthcare and other community leaders are spearheading an effort to have Collier County designated as a "Blue Zone," a geographic area denoting places where residents tend to live longer. "Already The female population in Collier County lives longer than anywhere else in the U.S., and the male population is No. 2. "We want to increase longevity and quality of life," says John Cox, president and CEO of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce. The area is hoping the designation will help it attract more retirees.
Arthrex: Arthrex opened a $25-million manufacturing plant in Ave Maria in July with more than 500 employees. It is also planning to build a 54,000-sq.-ft. plant at its current complex. The surgical devices company posted $1.3 billion in revenue in 2012 but has two patent infringement judgments pending against it — one totaling $85 million and other $30.9 million. The company continues to contest both judgements.
Permits for single-family homes surged 86% last year, and builders have had trouble finding skilled workers. Tom Patton, economic development director for Charlotte County, says the county is working with local schools and technical centers to try to create more training programs for carpenters and masons.
While Allegiant Air's expansion is helping to boost visitor numbers, the county has also been heavily marketing the region on the Weather Channel and through direct mail campaigns in the Northeast.
Cheney Bros. Plans to employ about 350 when it opens its new distribution center later this year.
Hendry / Glades Counties
Lykes Bros. And A. Duda & Sons are moving ahead with plans to build an intermodal logistics center on 4,700 acres in Moore Haven. Last year, the companies tapped Panattoni Development to market and develop the mixed-use industrial park, which will include 40 million square feet of manufacturing and distribution facilities.
Glades County has leased five acres in its business park to Institute St. Onge, a non-profit supply chain investment adviser, to build a Material Handlers Industry Training Center. Tracy Whirls, executive director of the Glades County Economic Development Corp., says the center would include space for a truck driving school, offices and classrooms for Edison State College, a job-center office, as well as an incubator.
CPR Tools in LaBelle landed a contract last year with OfficeMax to provide data recovery and data security services. CEO John Benkert says the company hopes to expand from 33 employees to 50.
DeSoto / Highland / Hardee Counties
The new owners of Blue Head Ranch in Highlands and DeSoto counties are looking at a number of options but have no definite plans yet for the property. Southern Pine Plantations, a Georgia-based real estate company, purchased the ranch in December for $86.4 million. One possibility includes expanding the ranch's row crop operations for watermelon, vegetables, sod, corn, peanut, blueberries or citrus, says Pat Patton, who heads up SPP's timberland acquisitions and sales.
PFMan, a high-precision parts manufacturer, recently opened a facility in Hardee County. It plans to employ 50.
Florikan, a manufacturer of controlled-release fertilizer, will begin construction soon on a manufacturing facility in Hardee County, where it will employ 30.