[Photo: Amber Frederiksen]
Traditionally, Collier County has been defined by agriculture out east, upscale tourism along the Gulf Coast — and the massive wealth of Naples residents attracted by the area’s climate, understated Midwestern ambience and out-of-the-way location. Today, Naples, the county’s biggest city, has a median household income of $74,959. A study by Forbes found that more wealthy people moved to Collier County in 2008 than any other county in the United States. For years, a number of top-level executives from major multinational firms have maintained homes in the area, jetting in on weekends for golf and recreation. The affluence is visible everywhere from multimillion-dollar beachfront homes to the city’s lively downtown restaurant scene, an impressive array of cultural amenities and the Naples Winter Wine Festival, which since 2001 has raised some $82.6 million for non-profits that help underprivileged and at-risk children.
In the years since the mid-1980s, when the construction of the Ritz-Carlton beach resort drew the attention of the outside world to Naples, the growing financial and intellectual horsepower in town has spawned or attracted several notable businesses, including Arthrex, which has developed 5,000 medical products. The area is also home to Health Management Associates, which operates 58 hospitals in 15 states. Thanks to 5,000 acres from the influential Barron Collier Cos., Collier County has a new town, Ave Maria, with its own university, in the eastern part of the county. Eight companies on Florida Trend’s list of the state’s 350 biggest public and private companies are based in Collier County.
Overall, however, the area’s economy has remained entrenched in agriculture, tourism and upscale development. The poverty of many agricultural workers in eastern Collier stands in shocking counterpoint to the wealth along the coast.
While some residents prefer things the way they’ve been, others are pushing harder to build a more robust business community outside the traditional base. Hoping to lure high-tech industry to southwest Florida, the Collier County Economic Development Council launched Project Innovation two years ago. The effort is focused on getting local business leaders to reach consensus on how to attract innovative companies and high-wage jobs. Collier County is a regional hub for the Florida Economic Gardening Institute’s technical assistance program. With 64 counselors, SCORE Naples is the largest business consulting organization in southwest Florida.
Some believe the effort to land Jackson Laboratory could be pivotal to the area’s future. The Maine-based research institute wants to locate a branch in eastern Collier that would employ 200. But the state and county have yet to finalize an incentive package, and local political friction means the lab could end up in another Florida city ["A Bid for Biotech"].
|A Community Portrait of Naples