by Jeff Zbar
Updated 5 yearss ago
Fort Lauderdale at sunrise
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[Photo courtesy Greater Fort Lauderdale Alliance. Photo by Ken Henson]
For much of the past 100 years, Fort Laudedale has been called the "Venice of America" for its miles of inland waterways. It once was the "Spring Break Capital of the World."
Still a fun-in-the-sun destination known for "beach, boats and brews," government and corporate leaders have worked tirelessly of late to add "business" to that list.
"We're working to identify key strategies to knock down barriers, increase employment and create an even better business environment," says Dan Lindblade, president/CEO of the Greater Fort Lauderdale Chamber of Commerce, which celebrated its centennial in 2010.
Fort Lauderdale Centennial
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This year, the City of Fort Lauderdale celebrates its own centennial. Over the past 100 years, the city has grown from amid the shadows of well-known neighbors south and north and developed an identity all its own.
In many ways, the identity has been formed by its leadership. Under the charge of Mayor Jack Seiler, the city has taken a pro-business «stance.
The mayor has made a real effort to help companies navigate city ordinances, planning and permitting. Working with local business advisory group the Broward Workshop, Seiler spearheaded an amended ordinance to allow tax incentives for companies creating 10 jobs, as opposed to the 100 previously.
"We had an ordinance passed in less than a month," he says. "When you look at Fort Lauderdale, one word that comes to mind is convenience."
Business executives taking a lead role have included people like Mike Jackson of AutoNation, Terry Stiles and Doug Eagon of Stiles Corp., local builder Tom Miller, and a host of others keen to build a place to work, live and thrive in Fort Lauderdale proper — and the outlying areas.
In truth, greater Fort Lauderdale encompasses much more than the city proper. It includes Tamarac, where home-grown City Furniture in 2001 opened a nearly 1 million-square-foot warehouse, distribution center and retail showroom. "This is perfect for distribution from Southeast to Southwest Florida," says co-founder and CEO Keith Koenig.
There's Weston, the once-bedroom community developed by Arvida on 26 square miles of former marsh and swamp, which now itself is a thriving city. Miramar to the south is home to Spirit Airlines and Premier Beverage Company LLC, a leading beverage and spirits distributor. To the north is Coral Springs, named by Money magazine as 44th among the country's 100 Best Places to Live — and first in Florida. Oakland Park recently completed a $4-million area renovation — including the seven-acre Jaco Pastorius Downtown Park, named for the hometown-native jazz bassist. Founded in 1925, Hollywood is home to a bustling downtown and a 2.5-mile beachfront pedestrian Broadwalk.
Along with Fort Lauderdale itself, they all share common attributes: a subtropical climate, favorable state taxes, arts and culture, all amid a continually evolving business environment.
H. Wayne Huizenga and wife Marti Huizenga pose with Dan Marino at Fort Lauderdale's "Man of the Centennial" celebration. [Photo: David Decoteau]
"If you're going to build a business, you want to be somewhere where the markets are growing," recalls H. Wayne Huizenga, who started his career here and eventually built three Fortune 500 companies — AutoNation, Blockbuster Entertainment and Republic Industries. For his efforts, the Fort Lauderdale Historical Society recently feted Huizenga as its "Man of the Centennial."
"When people are traveling or working 18 or 20 hours a day," Huizenga says, "they want their families in an environment where they're happy and comfortable."
That place — for many — is greater Fort Lauderdale. The city this year celebrates its 100th anniversary amid a balanced approach to life, work and play. During that time, it's found a unique identity — one that rivals other communities.
"We've allowed ourselves to be thought of as an outpost," says Gale Butler, vice president of corporate affairs with AutoNation and whose grandmother settled here in the 1930s.
"We should think of ourselves as the center of South Florida."
look at Fort Lauderdale, one word that comes to mind is
— Mayor Jack Seiler