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Southwest Florida

Miami-Dade Monroe County

Retail, construction and home building

Growth restrictions

Sarasota/Sarasota County

» Sarasota County long had one of the strictest set of development rules in the state, reflecting a slow-growth preference among many residents. But changes may be on the way this year. The Sarasota County Commission voted at the end of January to look at loosening regulations on the county's 2050 plan for development east of Interstate 75 — an area long protected by the county's master plan. Commissioners will consider allowing more units, perhaps more height and requiring less open space on the outer edges of developments. “The county is pursuing an openness to quality growth,” says Mark Huey, president and CEO of the Sarasota County EDC.

» Meanwhile, retail and development activity is picking up. The 880,000-sq.-ft. Mall at University Town Center is under construction. In the immediate vicinity are some 500 hotel rooms, 1,750 residential units and a $39.5-million world-class rowing facility under construction in three phases at Nathan Benderson Park.

Business to Watch

» Health Management Associates: The Naples-based company, which operates 22 hospitals in Florida, has opened a centralized billing and collection center in 28,000 square feet at the former Arthur Andersen complex on Fruitville Road near Interstate 75 in Sarasota. HMA will initially employ about 150 at the center but expects to double that number as demand grows. The hospital chain recently announced that it is buying Bayfront Medical Center in St. Petersburg.

Sarasota Population: 390,845
Population Growth Rate (2009-13): 0.89%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
12.52% 4.75% 16.99% 33.60% 32.14%
Per Capita Income: $56,275

MSA Dec. 2012 Dec. 2011 % Change Jobless Rate
Bradenton/Sarasota/North Port 278,855 272,016 +2.5% 7.8%
Cape Coral/Fort Myers 259,898 253,831 +2.4% 8.0%
Naples/Marco Island 142,805 138,773 +2.9% 7.3%
Punta Gorda 64,266 64,275 NC 8.0%
Source: Agency for Workforce Innovation

Homes - Single-family, existing-home sales
MSA 2013 Sales 1-Year Change 2013 Price 1-Year Change
Fort Myers/Cape Coral 11,765 -10.7% $134,000 +27.6%
Punta Gorda 3,636 +6.5% $115,000 +16.2%
Sarasota/Bradenton 11,700 +14.1% $168,000 +12.0%
Source: Florida Realtors

Bradenton/Manatee County

» Manatee County has adopted a strategy of thinking globally. The county is home to the expanding Port Manatee and is headquarters to several global companies — including Tropicana, IMG Academy and the recently relocated Feld Entertainment. IMG Academy attracts students from 80 countries, and its marketing efforts in effect serve to market the area as well. Manatee also has attracted Iriss, a U.K. company that moved its headquarters to Lakewood Ranch and will open this year. “We are aggressively marketing ourselves as a business destination globally,” says Sharon Hillstrom, president and CEO of the Bradenton Area Economic Development Corp. The EDC recently replaced “Manatee” with “Bradenton” in its name because Bradenton had higher name recognition outside Florida and also has changed its slogan to “Think global. Think Bradenton” — reflecting its changed focus.

Business to Watch

» Lakewood Ranch: The economic engine powering Manatee County has shifted from Bradenton to the massive master-planned community of Lakewood Ranch. Last year, 573 homes were built there, up 47% from 2011, and a 272-unit apartment complex was fully leased in six months. Existing homes on the market fell from a high of 850 in 2007 to 89 in February — only nine of which were distressed sales. In the commercial sector, office vacancy rates have fallen sharply to 9.2%, less than half the average of Manatee and Sarasota counties. Since 2000, more than 50% of all of the office absorption has occurred in Lakewood Ranch. “We're leading the way out,” says Rex Jensen, president and CEO of Schroeder-Manatee Ranch, developers of Lakewood Ranch.

Manatee Population: 341,739
Population Growth Rate (2009-13): 1.60%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
17.09% 5.66% 20.58% 32.89% 23.77%
Per Capita Income: $41,789


Fort Myers/Cape Coral/Lee County

» Lee County's economy, based largely on real estate, rose high and fell hard with the housing construction boom. The county seems to be finally coming out of the slump as construction and home sales across the board are increasing, says David Miller, executive director of the Chamber of Southwest Florida. “The pickup in home construction is essential for Lee County,” he says.

» The Chamber, the Horizon Council and other economic development groups are tapping in to the wealth of retired executives and visiting executives to push Lee as a relocation option. Miller says Southwest Florida International Airport and Florida Gulf Coast University are essential parts of the area's economic development strategy.

Business to Watch

» LeeSar: The hospital supply chain company built and opened a 197,000-sq.-ft. regional service center last year in Fort Myers that will enable it to expand and add service. The company was created in 1998 by Lee Memorial Health System to help buy and distribute supplies among the system's hospitals more efficiently. It now also serves the Sarasota Memorial Healthcare System, Leesburg Hospital, The Villages and Huntsville Hospital in Alabama. “Health care is going to be a leading economic growth area in our state,” says David Miller, executive director of the Chamber of Southwest Florida.

Lee Population: 659,475
Population Growth Rate (2009-13): 1.87%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
16.12% 5.38% 21.60% 31.87% 25.02%
Per Capita Income: $43,587

Naples/Collier County

» Collier County development officials and businesses are creating a regional partnership that targets site selectors for companies looking to relocate — something that most regions of Florida already have put together. The move may be timely, as prospects are picking up in Collier as they are statewide. “There's action going on,” says Michael Reagen, president and CEO of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce. At this point, however, the interest is coming mostly from site selectors, who don't disclose the companies they represent.

»  The University of Miami Health System's Bascom Palmer Eye Institute is building a facility in Naples that will house about 30 employees for clinical, surgical and research purposes and also serve as a training facility that could attract doctors from around the world.

» In Naples, residential and commercial renovations have become so hot that the city has hired another inspector to keep up with the load.

Business to Watch

» Barron Collier Cos.: After five years of struggles, the development company is emerging from the economic doldrums along with the rest of Collier County. Residential, retail and office holdings are all performing much better, and the company sees 2013 “as the best year in six years, easily,” says Blake Gable, president. In Naples, the company is negotiating to build a $25-million hotel and conference center, a surgery center, an assisted living facility and an acute care hospital. Near Ave Maria, in the eastern part of the county, Arthrex plans to open a 190,000-sq.-ft. manufacturing facility in May or June. In addition, home building is taking off, and a new hospital is in the planning stages for eastern Collier.

Collier Population: 343,176
Population Growth Rate (2009-13): 1.88%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
15.97% 5.50% 20.02% 30.91% 27.61%
Per Capita Income: $60,140


Charlotte County

» “We're posturing ourselves as the distribution hub for southwest Florida,” says Tom Patton, the county's economic development director. “We've got Collier and Lee to the south and Sarasota and Tampa Bay to the north. We're well-positioned for this.”

» Cheney Brothers, one of the largest food distributors in the South, is building a 270,000-sq.-ft. warehouse and distribution center at the Punta Gorda Interstate Airport Park. The Riviera Beach-based company will employ about 250 at the $25-million facility.

Charlotte Population: 165,483
Population Growth Rate (2009-13): 0.90%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
11.04% 4.06% 14.89% 33.36% 36.65%
Per Capita Income: $38,430

Hendry/Glades Counties

» Airglades Airport is on the cutting edge of a federal program that may reap huge economic rewards for the county: Privatizating the ownership of public airport land to spur development. “This is a life-changer for Hendry County,” says Gregg Gillman, executive director of economic development for Hendry. The federal government has tapped only a handful of publicly owned airports in the nation to participate in the privatization program, which includes a consortium of local and national investors who are initially managing the developments on 2,400 acres surrounding the small airport. A deal to bring an aviation-related manufacturer to the airport that would create 180 jobs is in progress, helping diversify the heavily agricultural county.

Hendry Population: 39,710
Population Growth Rate (2009-13): 0.45%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
23.62% 7.12% 28.72% 28.38% 12.16%
Per Capita Income: $30,618

Glades Population: 13,262
Population Growth Rate (2009-13): 0.81%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
16.36% 5.07% 25.34% 32.77% 20.46%
Per Capita Income: $24,489

DeSoto/Highland/Hardee Counties

» Hardee County is seeing one of the biggest economic developments in its history as BioNitrogen embarks on a 600-acre project to build a fertilizer plant that will employ about 50 and result in cheaper fertilizer for area farmers. BioNitrogen uses a proprietary technology to build plants that convert biomass into fertilizer. Hardee County will build a railroad spur to the 40-acre plant the company is planning, giving direct access to Tampa Bay ports about 70 miles away. “It creates jobs, but it also creates a great product that can be utilized right here,” says Hardee County Manager Lex Albritton.

» Atlanticblue in Lake Wales is planning to sell the Blue Head Ranch — roughly 100 square miles of cattle and crops that straddles Highlands and DeSoto counties. The Highland County Commission approved plans to develop a city on the Blue Head property with up to 30,000 housing units on 7,500 of the acres, plus 10 million square feet of retail, office and industrial space. Also, the planned Heartland Parkway from Lakeland to Fort Myers would bisect the property.

DeSoto Population: 35,730
Population Growth Rate (2009-13): 0.81%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
18.94% 6.03% 26.71% 29.32% 18.99%
Per Capita Income: $25,189

Hardee Population: 28,402
Population Growth Rate (2009-13): 0.66%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
23.25% 7.14% 28.00% 28.27% 13.35%
Per Capita Income: $27,080

Highlands Population: 105,329
Population Growth Rate (2009-13): 1.58%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
15.31% 4.93% 18.02% 28.79% 32.94%
Per Capita Income: $31,322