Photo:Valve maker Sun Hydraulics, based in Sarasota, has been expanding.
2015 Economic Yearbook - Southwest
Manufacturing: Although tourism and retirement-related businesses remain Sarasota's economic mainstays, manufacturing is emerging as a key sector. Local manufacturers added nearly 600 jobs during the year that ended last June, a 9% increase, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Among those in growth mode are plastic injection molder Octex, valve maker Sun Hydraulics and window and door manufacturer PGT Industries.
Construction: Construction payrolls expanded 16% last year, as an improving job market helped housing. Annual sales of single-family homes and condominiums hit an all-time high of 11,550, topping the county's previous record of 11,482 in 2004. And the median sales price for single-family homes rose 10% last year to $202,000.
Downtown Development: About 30 projects are in various stages of planning or development in an urban core that measures only one square mile, according to the Greater sarasota Chamber of Commerce. Plans call for nearly 1,000 apartments, 1,500 condos and townhomes and 1,300 hotel rooms, as well as new offices and retail space. Chamber President Steve Queior says new financing is pouring into downtown because "it's easy to get around and quite pretty. Once financing started to flow after the Great Recession, downtown was a pretty high target for people."
Person to Watch
Norman Gollub: Previously an urban planner and consultant in Portland, Ore., Gollub moved to Sarasota two years ago to become downtown's economic development coordinator. Gollub is charged with increasing pedestrian activity, supporting current businesses and attracting new ventures downtown. He also will play an important role in planning for growth as Sarasota replaces its conventional zoning with a so-called form-based code, which "will help shape the look and feel of the city," Gollub says. "Sarasota wants to be a big city with a small-town feel."
Business to Watch
University Town Center: The 880,000-sq.-ft. mall opened last October in Sarasota off 1-75 with three department stores and many tenants new to the area, including Apple. It debuted with 90% of its space leased and was one of only two enclosed malls nationwide to open last year.
Bradenton/ Manatee County
Foreign Investment: Last November, the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. and Port Manatee led a trade mission to Spain in search of foreign investment. Meanwhile, the port has opened a business incubator to offer low-cost space to companies involved in international trade.
Business Growth: Bright House Networks is adding a customer support center in Bradenton, creating 155 jobs over three years. Infrared-window manufacturer IRISS, which moved its headquarters to Manatee County from the United Kingdom two years ago, is expanding in Lakewood Ranch and hiring 25 employees. "Companies that are here seem to be more confident about the economy and are investing in facility expansions or buying new equipment," says EDC President and CEO Sharon Hillstrom.
Sports Biz: An expansion of the IMG Academy in Bradenton includes a new Gatorade Sports Science Institute. And McKechnie Field, the Pittsburgh Pirates' spring training ballpark, has undergone more than $16 million in upgrades in recent years.
Person to Watch
Mark Pentecost: Pentecost is founder and CEO of It Works! The Palmetto-based company, which moved from Michigan to Manatee County in 2011, sells dietary supplements and skin-care products. Two years ago, Pentecost's Riverside Investment Property paid $3.1 million for an office building in Palmetto and spent $7 million to create an unorthodox headquarters featuring a large slide and rooftop sports bar. He owns more than 1,000 acres of local ranch land and the Stoneybrook Golf Course in Bradenton.
Business to Watch
Star2Star Communications: The technology company recently added 30,000 square feet to its Manatee County headquarters, a 48% increase, and plans to nearly triple its local work force over the next five years. Star2Star provides cloud-based telecommunications systems for business phone operations, video conferencing and instant messaging.
Fort Myers/Cape Coral/Lee County
Job Growth: Employers in Lee County expanded their payrolls 6. 3% last year, the third-largest increase nationwide and the biggest in Florida, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Construction led the way with job growth of 14%.
Hertz: Rental car giant Hertz Global Holdings plans to complete its headquarters move from New Jersey to Lee County this fall, when it opens a 300,000-sq.-ft. facility in Estero for about 700 employees. A planned spinoff of Hertz's equipment rental business into a separate $2-billion company also is expected to bring about 150 jobs to Bonita Springs.
Relocations: Fashion footwear company Camuto Group of Greenwich, Conn., will take about 10,000 square feet in Bonita Springs for a new financial office. And Universal Trailer Holdings of Cincinnati will move to the county, creating about 20 jobs.
Person to Watch
Daniel Dosoretz: As CEO of 21st Century Oncology, Dosoretz leads one of the nation's largest providers of cancer care services. The Fort Myers-based company received a $325-million investment last year from Canada's largest pension fund manager. The company operates 145 treatment centers in the U.S. and 36 in Latin America.
Business to Watch
Gartner: For the second time since 2012, the technology consulting company is expanding in Fort Myers. Connecticut-based Gartner has begun construction on 132,000 square feet of space in the Gateway area. It employs about 700 locally.
County Population: 678,088 , up 9.3% vs. 2010
Unemployment rate: 5.0%
Per capita income: $47,699
Naples/ Collier County
New Jobs: Naples will see 4% job growth in 2015, the largest percentage increase of any area in Florida, according to a forecast by IHS Global Insight. That translates to nearly 5,300 new jobs this year.
Wages: Collier County had the fourth-largest wage increase on a percentage basis nationwide and the biggest in Florida between mid- 2013 and mid-2014. Average weekly wages for Collier rose 6.8% to $853 during the year that ended in the second quarter of 2014, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
Diversification: Local economic development officials are pursuing a three-year plan called Opportunity Naples to diversify Collier's economy beyond its four traditional industries: Agriculture, construction, health care and tourism. Potential growth areas include clean manufacturing, information technology and aviation, says Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce President John Cox. "Every time Collier County comes out of a cyclical downturn, coastal Collier becomes more wealthy, and the rest of the county becomes poorer," he says. "Without diversifying our economy, the middle class will disappear, and our young people will continue to move away."
Person to Watch
David Diamond: Nineteen years ago, Diamond started a construction management business in Naples with another University of Florida alum, John DeAngelis. Their firm, DeAngelis Diamond Construction, has since managed more than $1 billion worth of commercial projects in Florida. It posted $130 million in annual sales last year and is expanding. Meanwhile, Diamond has co-founded or invested in more than 20 tech startups. Diamond also has jumped on the co-working space trend, opening Venture X in Naples with his son, Brett.
Business to Watch
Naples Soap Co: Founded in 2009 by former nurse Deanna Renda, Naples Soap gave itself a goal for 2015 of opening two new stores in southwest Florida. The company was well on its way to making that goal by February with a new store lease on Sanibel Island and another in development on Marco Island. The 40-employee company plans to move to a larger facility this year, Renda says.
Tenant-Ready: Local officials aim to land industrial tenants for the new Punta Gorda Interstate Airport Park, offering 4,300 acres ready for development. As a bonus, the county's economic development office recently worked with an architect to design and permit 20,000 square feet of speculative manufacturing space within the park. Business recruitment supervisor Lucienne Pears says the county will provide those plans at no cost to builders or manufacturers to jump-start development.
Homes: While commercial construction has been slow to recover from the recession, annual permits for single-family homes have more than doubled since 2011. Last year, residential building permits rose 31%.
County Population: 170,977 , up 6.8% vs. 2010
Unemployment rate: 5.1%
Per capita income: $39,511
Hendry/ Glades Counties
Manufacturing: The Legislature last year provided $3.5 million to build the Gateway Logistics and Manufacturing Training Center in Glades County as part of an effort to make Florida's Heartland region more attractive to employers. Construction is under way on 40,000 square feet of classrooms, offices and warehouse space at a county-owned business park in Moore Haven, with a scheduled summer completion, says Tracy Whirls, executive director of the Glades Economic Development Council. "The challenge in rural Florida is being able to demonstrate to a company that you have a pipeline of talent for their business if they locate here," Whirls says.
County Population: 42,170 , up 7.7% vs. 2010
Unemployment rate: 8.4%
Per capita income: $31,061
County Population: 13,275 , up 3.4% vs. 2010
Unemployment rate: 6.4%
Per capita income: $25,736
DeSoto/Highlands/ Hardee Counties
Race Car Training: Veteran race car driver Ivor Wigham plans to turn a closed jail and mental health facility near Arcadia into a training ground for rally car drivers. Wigham's Power Auto bought the property from the state last December for $2.5 million. The purchase includes about 500 acres and 565,000 square feet of building space. Plans call for a manufacturing facility, driver training center and hotel. The project is expected to bring between 80 and 120 jobs to DeSoto County in the first year and up to 360 within five years.
Airport Businesses: Sebring Regional Airport, which includes a 2,000-acre commerce park, has several new tenants: Metal roofing manufacturer GulfCoast Supply & Manufacturing employs about 40 people at a 110,000-sq.-ft. facility. Tecnam, an Italian manufacturer of light aircraft, opened a 21,000-sq.-ft. facility to serve the North, Central and South American markets. Paradise Aircraft of Brazil will produce its next generation P1 Special Light Sport aircraft at a 5,000-sq.-ft. hangar. And in a 34,000-sq.-ft. hangar, Davie-based FLG Technics has a new business, FLG Teardowns, for aircraft parts distribution, recycling and dismantling large planes. Meanwhile, Lockwood Aviation in April will open a 6,000-sq.-ft. facility where customers can build their own AirCam twinengine experimental planes.
Mosaic: Phosphate mining company Mosaic is applying for permits to mine about 22,000 acres in Hardee County and 18,000 acres in DeSoto County. Future mining operations in both counties will require 500 to 600 full-time employees, Mosaic says.