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Southwest Florida

Southwest at a Glance

Southwest Florida

Demographics for the Southwest Region can be found at Business Florida's interactive map of Florida.

Universities/Colleges
• Ave Maria University
• Edison State College
• Florida Gulf Coast University
• Hodges University

Airports
• Naples Municipal
• Punta Gorda
• Southwest Florida International

Southwest Florida has, for years, quietly attracted the attention of businesses in such diverse industries as technology, retail, manufacturing and healthcare. In 2013, this region began making headlines.

First came NCAA "March Madness" with its Cinderella story of the players from little-known Florida Gulf Coast University in Fort Myers, who beat some of college basketball’s biggest names and advanced to the "Sweet Sixteen." Two months later, came Hertz — the world’s leader in car rentals — announcing the relocation of its corporate headquarters from New Jersey to Estero.

It seems as though the outside world is learning what businesses in this three-county region already know: With affordable sites, an educated workforce and a dynamic quality of life, Southwest Florida is a good place to grow.

Globally minded companies here enjoy ready access to markets through Tampa and Miami via I-75, and Foreign Trade Zones at two sites, Southwest Florida International Airport and Page Field. And now that Allegiant Air has added eight new destinations at Punta Gorda Airport, 19 mid-sized cities are just a flight away. With connections like these, it’s no wonder that Cheney Brothers Inc., the nation’s 11th largest food distributor, chose to site its newest distribution facility here.

WHO LIVES HERE

Expanding workforce Employers looking to grow in this region can be assured of a workforce to match. Projections show an increase of 5% in Southwest Florida’s 18-54 age group by 2015, compared to 1% across the entire state.

Significant Latin influence At 26%, Collier County has the highest percentage of Hispanic population of any county along Florida’s Gulf Coast. Sixteen percent of Collier’s total businesses are Hispanic-owned compared to 14% in Lee County.

Educational partners In addition to a winning basketball team, Florida Gulf Coast University offers 51 undergraduate and 28 graduate degree programs, plus workshops and one-on-one-counseling for entrepreneurs at its Small Business Development Center. Edison State College, which opened as a junior college in 1962, today serves 17,000 students, awards close to 2,400 associate and 300 bachelor’s degrees annually and in 2012 opened its first on-campus dormitory.

ECONOMIC LIFE

Life Sciences/Healthcare
• The University of Miami’s Bascom Palmer Eye Institute, a fixture in Naples since 2004, has outgrown its leased space and is building a facility of its own. The new clinic will employ 30 and feature an ambulatory surgery center as well as space for treatment of ophthalmic diseases, imaging, laser vision correction and vision research. Ranked No. 1 for ophthalmology on U.S. News & World Report’s list of "America’s Best Hospitals," for 10 years in a row, Bascom Palmer treats more than 250,000 patients annually at three east coast Florida locations; another 12,000 patients are served in Naples each year.

• An artificial finger designed by Naples-based Didrick Medical for partial-finger amputees is garnering attention and winning awards. The X-Finger, which mimics the motion of a real finger without using an external power source, is already in use by military veterans and children and was a runner-up for this year’s $50,000 Cade Museum Prize. In 2009, Didrick’s X-Finger received the "Perfect Pitch Award" in an international competition for inventors and entrepreneurs sponsored by PerfectBusiness.com.

• Neo Genomics, an oncology reference laboratory providing testing technologies and education to the pathology community, plans to expand its headquarters and lab space in Fort Myers with the expectation of creating 75 new jobs.

Agribusiness
A 5,700-acre former beef cattle ranch off Highway 31 near Punta Gorda is new home to approximately 2,400 head of bison and an experiment in sustainable agriculture. Owners Rodger B. Dowdell Jr., a former manufacturing CEO, and Keith Mann acquired the bison from Midwestern farmers and ranchers who were forced to sell off their herds last summer. The two hope to make a go of raising and butchering the bison on-site, then selling the meat to health-conscious Florida consumers as an alternative to beef.

Technology
Entertainment Metals, a company engaged in custom manufacture, repair and design of technical equipment/accessories for audio-visual and broadcast needs, has relocated its headquarters to a 14,000-sq.-ft. facility near Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers. The firm, which currently employs 12, plans to add another 10 jobs.

QUALITY OF LIFE

Make time for play Southwest Florida is home to sunshine — some claim 360 days of it each year — and miles of sandy beaches for snorkeling, kayaking, parasailing or just plain relaxing along the Gulf of Mexico. Arts and culture are important here too. There are symphony orchestras to enjoy in Fort Myers and Naples, plus a full complement of art galleries, museums, theaters and festivals across the region. It’s little wonder that Naples landed the No. 24 spot on TripAdvisor’s 2013 Travelers’ Choice Destination awards.

Major league fun at minor league prices While it’s still too cold and wet up north for baseball, the boys of summer are already at bat in southwest Florida. Fort Myers is spring training home to the Boston Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins; the Tampa Bay Rays train just up the road in Port Charlotte.

Go wild You only have to venture a few miles south of Naples to leave civilization pretty quickly. Collier County is home to the Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge, 35,000 acres set aside to protect Florida’s precious mangrove forest and the endangered wildlife it shelters. Boating and fishing are the chief activities here, but you can view some of the wildlife along a one-mile trail located just off U.S. 41.

NOTABLE ADDITIONS/EXPANSIONS

Corporate headquarters The Hertz Corporation, a Fortune 300 company and the world’s largest airport general use car rental brand, plans to relocate its world headquarters from Park Ridge, New Jersey, to Lee County. Coming on the heels of acquiring Oklahoma-based Dollar Thrifty Automotive Group, this move by Hertz aims to consolidate corporate operations and have ready access to Florida’s tourism assets. Plans call for construction of a 300,000-sq.-ft. headquarters building in Estero and 700 Florida-based jobs.

Professional services Wisconsin-based Alta Resources has begun hosting job fairs and filling the nearly 500 customer service and sales jobs it will create in Fort Myers with the opening of a call-center later this year in the Gateway Corridor. Among the firm’s reasons for choosing Fort Myers: the availability of bilingual workers.

NOTABLE EMPLOYERS

Corporate Headquarters
• Chico’s FAS Inc. Fort Myers
• Source Interlink Companies Inc. Bonita Springs

Healthcare
• Arthrex Inc. Naples
• Lee Memorial Health System Fort Myers
• LeeSar Fort Myers
• NCH Healthcare System Naples

Information Technology
• Gartner Inc. Fort Myers

Manufacturing
• Heinz North America Fort Myers
• Raymond Building Supply North Fort Myers
• Shaw Development Bonita Springs