With its enticing combination of affordable sites, educated workforce and dynamic quality of life, Southwest Florida appeals to companies in such diverse industry sectors as technology, retail, manufacturing and healthcare. Florida Gulf Coast University and several emerging technology and research parks are luring new businesses and providing existing firms with the resources they need to innovate and prosper.
Companies that start here tend to stay here, and those that relocate to this region find it a good place to grow. New Jersey-based TZ Insurance Solutions opened a Lee County office in 2011 with the promise of adding 125 jobs; to date, TZ has hired 140-plus. Likewise, long-time Collier County-based surgical device manufacturer Arthrex Inc. has plans to add 600 jobs and a new manufacturing facility.
Southwest Florida offers excellent transportation connections, including the I-75 corridor linking the region to Tampa to the north and Miami to the east, plus two designated Foreign Trade Zones at the recently expanded Southwest Florida International Airport and at Page Field, a general aviation airport.
WHO LIVES HERE
With a median age of 49, Southwest Florida’s workforce spans two eras: Baby Boom with its traditional work ethic and Generation X, proficient in multitasking and technology. Employers looking to round out their talent base can benefit from both.
Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) in Fort Myers, with satellite centers in Cape Coral, Punta Gorda and Naples, is a strong economic partner, offering 52 undergraduate and 30 graduate degree programs as well as courses centered on skills that area employers need most. FGCU’s Small Business Development Center hosts specialized workshops throughout the year.
Growing Asian community
Asian and Pacific Islanders represent less than 2% of the total population in each of the region’s three counties, but their numbers have nearly tripled in 10 years. As a result, all types of Asian-owned and -oriented businesses — from law firms to restaurants — are taking root here.
Arcadia Aerospace Industries, a manufacturer of inspection systems used to test the integrity of newly constructed aircraft, has been acquired by aerospace specialty services company X-Ray Industries Inc. of Troy, Michigan, and will remain in Charlotte County. X-Ray Industries plans to invest approximately $1.5 million to expand the firm’s current facility at Punta Gorda Airport, thus tripling Arcadia’s capacity; an estimated 12 jobs will be added.
Naples is home to a growing technology sector. In Collier County alone, close to 3,500 workers are employed in IT and software-related jobs, and that number continues to grow. Among the firms represented here: Benseron Information Technology, which makes point-of-sale hardware and software for restaurants and retailers; Position Logic, a leading provider of GPS tracking software; and Softwarenology, developer of educational software for kindergarten through high school.
Small Business Support
For fledgling entrepreneurs, advice from seasoned professionals can mean a better-than-average chance of commercial success. In Southwest Florida, encouragement and/or facilities are available at:
• Southwest Florida Enterprise Center in downtown Fort Myers: providing affordable office and industrial space and services to a roster of more than 20 tenants, including Scaled Energy, a manufacturer of wind turbines, and Applied Physics, developer and soon-to-be manufacturer of a smart relay controller for outdoor lighting.
• Immokalee Business Development Center in east Collier County: offering technical assistance and resources to startups and existing small businesses in the hope that by helping small businesses prosper, permanent jobs will result for an Immokalee workforce long dependent on seasonal agricultural employment.
Medical device manufacturer Arthrex Inc., already one of Collier County’s largest employers, expects to create up to 600 new jobs over the next five years. An innovator in products for arthroscopic and minimally invasive orthopaedic surgery, Arthrex broke ground in April 2012 on a 160,000-sq.-ft. manufacturing plant near Ave Maria. Also planned: a 100,000-sq.-ft. expansion of the firm’s existing headquarters campus in north Naples. In addition to manufacturing medical devices, Arthrex is a tourism magnet, drawing some 10,000 visitors — physicians and independent sales representatives — to Southwest Florida each year for educational programs.
QUALITY OF LIFE
Beach meets boardroom
Southwest Florida is home to miles of sandy beaches along the Gulf of Mexico and the superb recreational opportunities that go along with easy ocean access, such as snorkeling, kayaking and parasailing. Average temperatures here range from 83° F in summer to 66° F in winter; locals claim 360 days of sunshine each year. Arts and culture are huge here too. In fact, amenities like a philharmonic orchestra with its own state-of-the-art concert hall and a thriving arts community are among the reasons Naples earned national acclaim in 2012: the No. 2 spot on Coastal Living’s list of “America’s Happiest Seaside Towns,” and No. 9 among Smithsonian magazine’s “20 Best Small Towns in America.”
Major League investment
Lee County has been spring training home to the Boston Red Sox since 1993, so it came as no surprise that when the team determined its need for a new and improved spring training facility, Fort Myers got the nod. JetBlue Park, part of a complete training and development facility called Fenway South, opened in March 2012. The stadium, which seats more than 10,000 fans, includes a 37-foot “Green Monster” wall in left field and a restored version of the manual scoreboard that was housed at Boston’s Fenway Park for almost 30 years. And just up the road at Port Charlotte, the Tampa Bay Rays train at their newly remodeled Charlotte Sports Park.
Downtown Fort Myers is sitting pretty these days thanks to a $60-million renovation — underground utilities, brick roads, new streetlights and new street signs. Since completion of the four-year project, about 20 new businesses have moved in, including a Parisian-style bakery, gelato shop, several restaurants and boutiques, and the downtown business district is once again a destination for residents and tourists alike.
Cheney Brothers Inc. will build a 250,000-sq.-ft. food distribution center — its fourth such Florida-based facility — near Punta Gorda Airport and generate more than 300 new jobs in the process. Slated for completion in 2013, the new Cheney Brothers site will be the first in Florida to take advantage of a new discounted electric service rate program offered by Florida Power & Light, the state’s largest utility, to encourage economic development. Qualified businesses must add at least 350 kilowatts of new load and create at least 10 new jobs (25 jobs after June 1, 2013) per 350 kilowatts of added load.
Chico’s FAS Inc., a specialty retailer of private-branded women’s clothing, accessories and gifts, broke ground in early 2012 on a new 146,000-sq.-ft. corporate headquarters building in Fort Myers. A Southwest Florida fixture since 1983, Chico’s has grown from a single shop on Sanibel Island to more than 600 Chico’s boutiques and 83 outlets nationwide. The expansion will add 150 new jobs to the firm’s existing headquarters staff of 1,250.
• Chico’s FAS Inc. - Fort Myers
• Source Interlink Company - Bonita Springs
• Arthrex Inc. - Naples
• Lee Memorial Health System - Fort Myers
• LeeSar - Fort Myers
• NCH Healthcare System - Naples
• Gartner Inc. - Fort Myers
• Heinz North America - Fort Myers
• Pall Corporation - Fort Myers