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Southwest Florida Economic Indicators

Manufacturing shows promise in Sarasota and Bradenton while strong job growth and a declining inventory of homes for sale provide a ‘flicker of light’ in Naples.

Southwest Florida

Sarasota/Sarasota County

Issues to Watch

» Local merchants have been squaring off with the city over an ambitious improvement project to make Main Street more pedestrian-friendly. A major point of contention: The city's plan to convert a number of angled parking spaces to parallel spots to allow for the widening of sidewalks. While several restaurants favor the change because it would create space for outdoor dining, a number of shop owners have objected, saying the resulting decrease in parking spots would hurt their businesses.

What's Hot

Sam Shake
Sam Shake is president and CEO of BioLife, maker of WoundSeal. The company is expanding beyond Florida. [Photo: Mark Wemple]
» Life Sciences and Health: Enzymedica, which manufactures enzyme supplements to improve health, is relocating its manufacturing plant from Port Charlotte to Venice. The move will create 72 jobs with an average annual wage of $41,460. BioLife, a private company that manufactures a topical powder called WoundSeal that stops bleeding instantly, has expanded its distribution beyond Florida. Its product is now on shelves in Walgreens in Arizona and New Mexico and is being test-marketed in other states. Rapid Pathogen Screening, a Lakewood Ranch-based company that makes diagnostic test kits for viral conjunctivitis and other illnesses, is also on a growth trajectory. The company plans to hire nearly 200 employees over the next several years as other tests in its development pipeline receive FDA approval.

» Manufacturing: Tervis Tumbler, a manufacturer of insulated cups, has more than tripled its revenue and workforce over the past three years. The company secured licensing agreements with Disney and professional sports leagues such as the MLB, NBA, NFL and NHL and doubled its production capacity last year. Sun Hydraulics is planning a $16-million expansion that will include 60,000 square feet of manufacturing space and 16,000 square feet of additional office space. The company designs and makes high-performance hydraulic cartridge valves and manifolds.

What's Not

» Community banks: While the pace of bank failures has slowed considerably, undercapitalized community banks are struggling. Sarasota's Sabal Palm ended 2011 with a net loss of $490,000, and Bradenton-based First America reported a 2011 net loss of $3.1 million. The Bank of Commerce in Sarasota reported the largest loss at $8.12 million. Bauer Financial gave the Bank of Commerce zero stars, the lowest rating for financial health.

Businesses to Watch

» FCCI Insurance: The Sarasota property and casualty insurer, which ranks 51st among private companies in Florida Trend's ranking of companies based on revenue, is expanding into Maryland and Texas this year and has also applied for licenses in Louisiana and Arkansas.

» Sunovia Energy Technologies: After failing to get a foothold in the solar industry, Sunovia has shifted its focus to producing LED lighting. Erich Hofer, a Sunovia board member, has replaced Art Buckland as CEO following Buckland's ouster in January, and the company has hired VM5 Ventures, a lighting industry consulting firm, to help the company build its brand and presence in the lighting industry.

People to Watch

Jesse Biter
Software entrepreneur Jesse Biter is recruiting high-end tenants for retail space he's purchased in downtown Sarasota. [Photo: Rachel S. O'Hara/The Sarasota Observer]

» Jesse Biter: The software entrepreneur has big plans for downtown Sarasota. The 35-year-old millionaire is purchasing 11,000 square feet of retail space along Palm Avenue and is recruiting high-end tenants that will stay open late and, he hopes, create a bustling nightlife. He also purchased the old Century Bank building in downtown Sarasota from the FDIC and is rehabbing it to serve as an incubator for technology startups. On the political front, Biter is serving as state director for Rick Santorum's campaign for president.

» Randall Reid: The new county administrator, who held the same position in Alachua County for 12 years, replaces Jim Ley, who resigned in May following revelations of widespread problems in the way the county handled contracts.

» Jeanne Corcoran: The director of the Sarasota County Film & Entertainment Office since 2007 has helped to invigorate Sarasota's boutique film industry. Under Corcoran's leadership, the county has attracted film projects that have generated close to $9 million in direct spending over the past 4½ years.

Sarasota Population: 388,356
Population Growth Rate (2008-12): 0.73%
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: $58,916

MSA Dec. 2011 Dec. 2010 % Change Jobless Rate
Bradenton/Sarasota/North Port 269,913 266,823 +1.2% 9.8%
Cape Coral/Fort Myers 243,805 241,175 +1.1% 10.2%
Naples/Marco Island 129,546 129,632 -.07% 9.5%
Punta Gorda 62,636 61,424 +2.0% 10.0%
Source: Agency for Workforce Innovation

Homes - Single-family, existing-home sales
MSA 2011 Sales 1-Year Change 2011 Price 1-Year Change
Fort Myers/Cape Coral 14,134 -7% $107,100 +15%
Punta Gorda 3,231 +5% $97,500 -2%
Sarasota/Bradenton 10,901 +8% $152,000 -4%
Source: Florida Realtors; year-end sales, median price

Sarasota County Consumer Bankruptcies
2010 2011 Change
2,233 1,567 -29.8%
Source: National Bankruptcy Research Center

Bradenton/Manatee County

A number of companies say they are having trouble filling positions because they can't find enough skilled workers. To help bridge the gap, a new non-profit called CareerEdge Funders has been partnering with companies in Manatee and Sarasota counties to help them develop strategies to resolve workforce challenges. Over the past couple of years, the group has partnered with several area hospitals to provide funding for training and system changes that have helped kitchen workers, housekeepers and patient transporters move into higher-paid positions as certified nursing assistants, registered nurses and surgical technicians. The group, which receives the bulk of its funding from private foundations and employers, has also provided assistance to manufacturing firms like PGT Industries and Tervis Tumbler in neighboring Sarasota County and is in the process of helping some local insurance companies work with community colleges to create a curriculum to produce the workers they need.

The county's manufacturing sector continues to grow, meanwhile, thanks to several recent business relocations. Ipe Clip Fastener, which designs and manufactures fasteners for decks, recently relocated from South Carolina to Manatee County and plans to hire 80 employees over the next five years. Global Components has also selected Manatee for its U.S. operations and plans to create 50 jobs over the next several years. C Products Defense, which uses robotic welding units to make ammunition magazines, recently relocated from Connecticut and plans to add 100 employees over the next five years.

Businesses to Watch

Kenneth Feld
Feld Entertainment, led by Chairman and CEO Kenneth Feld, is building a new facility in Ellenton and plans to create 235 jobs. [Photo: Jeffrey Salter]

» Feld Entertainment: The company, which owns Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus and produces other shows such as Disney on Ice and Disney Live!, is spending $20 million on a new facility in Ellenton, where it plans to consolidate its headquarters and house all operations related to the design and production of its tours. The expansion will preserve 148 local jobs and create 235 new ones.

Manatee Population: 338,015
Population Growth Rate (2008-12): 1.48%
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: $42,155


Fort Myers/Cape Coral/Lee County

Chico's plans to add 150 jobs as it expands its headquarters in Fort Myers. [Photo: Chico's]
While construction jobs declined 8% between December 2010 and December 2011 and 62% over the past five years, there are some positive developments. Tourism is strong and December sales tax revenue reached its highest level in three years. Though unemployment remains high, several companies are expanding with the help of financial incentives from the county and state. Gartner, a global IT company, is adding 400 jobs. Women's clothing retailer Chico's recently announced a headquarters expansion that will add about 150 jobs. Newcomer VR Laboratories, a botanical pharmaceutical company, is building a production facility in Lee County that will create more than 200 jobs.

While retail vacancy rates in Lee County have fallen from 9.6% in 2009 to 8.6% in 2011, office vacancy rates have remained stuck at about 16.8% for the past three years. Gary Tasman, executive director of Cushman & Wakefield, says flat employment conditions are to blame and that office space absorption is unlikely until jobs increase. Long reliant on home building, the area is still waiting for its residential real estate market to return to health. "The economy is improving, but slowly. Like a lot of places in Florida, this real estate overhang has really ultimately got to be cleared away before we see any sort of accelerated recovery," says Jim Moore, director of the Lee County Economic Development office.

Businesses to Watch

» TZ Insurance Solution: Since locating to Lee County in early 2011, TZ Insurance Solutions has hired 141. The company, headquartered in Fort Lee, N.J., had projected it would hire 125 originally but grew faster than expected.

Lee Population: 648,082
Population Growth Rate (2008-12): 1.48%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
16.28% 5.39% 21.85% 32.28% 24.20%
Per Capita Income: $41,237

Naples/Collier County

Mike Reagan Chamber President and CEO Mike Reagen has teamed up with other leaders to create The Partnership for Collier's Future Economy, which aims to foster business growth.
Strong job growth, increased tourism and a decreasing inventory of homes are just a few of the "flickers of light on the horizon that things are incrementally getting better," says Mike Reagen, president and CEO of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, but concerns remain. While buyers from the north have been buying up homes, the area is still grappling with a glut of commercial property — office vacancy rates for Collier County are high at 16.6%. Reagen and others believe the region needs to do a better job of trying to diversify the economy if the area hopes to achieve long-term success. To that end, Reagen and other key stakeholders in the community recently announced the formation of a group called The Partnership for Collier's Future Economy that will assist businesses with growth by holding roundtable sessions for entrepreneurs and operating a FastTrac GrowthVenture business development program for local CEOs of companies with four to 10 employees and sales of less than $1 million.

Businesses to Watch

Arthrex's $47-million expansion is expected to create 600 jobs in the next five years. [Photo: Arthrex]

» Arthrex: Already one of the county's largest employers, Arthrex is in the beginning stages of a $47-million expansion that will create an estimated 600 jobs over the next five years. The medical device company is planning to build a 160,000-sq.-ft. facility in Ave Maria and is also adding 100,000 square feet of space at its North Naples corporate campus. Arthrex's revenue has increased from $610.9 million in 2007 to $996.9 million in 2010.

Collier Population: 337,421
Population Growth Rate (2008-12): 1.60%
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: $62,225


Charlotte County

Cal Ripken
Cal Ripken
X-Ray Industries in Troy, Mich., recently acquired Punta Gorda-based Arcadia Aerospace and will invest $1.5 million in the company to help it triple the capacity of its plant and add 12 employees. Arcadia provides aircraft ultrasonic inspections. The county also earmarked $500,000 in incentive funds to help lure two unidentified manufacturing companies to Charlotte County. The funds will be paid out only if the companies decide to relocate to Charlotte County and create an agreed-on number of jobs. Cal Ripken, meanwhile, is in talks with county officials about building a youth baseball academy in Port Charlotte. Sarasota County had hoped the facility would be built at Twin Lakes Park since Sarasota is the spring training home of Ripkin's former team, the Baltimore Orioles.

Charlotte Population: 164,939
Population Growth Rate (2008-12): 0.69%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
11.29% 4.41% 14.67% 34.17% 35.45%
Per Capita Income: $39,116

Hendry/Glades Counties

Universal Space NetworkUniversal Space Network is investing $5 million in a satellite communications tower.
Universal Space Network is building a satellite communications tower on eight acres at Airglades Airport in Hendry County — a $5-million investment that will create three jobs. Meanwhile, an Airglades Airport privatization/development project is on track. The original developer has formed an alliance with local agriculture giants United States Sugar and Hilliard Bros. of Florida. Several major aviation organizations have also joined the effort, and state highway projects, including the reconfiguration of U.S. 27/State Road 80 interchange, are also helping to fuel interest from potential airport tenants and users, according to a local economic development official.

In neighboring Glades County, Lykes Bros. and A. Duda & Sons are moving forward with plans to build a logistics center on 4,700 acres on the outskirts of Moore Haven and have hired Cushman & Wakefield to begin marketing the facility, which will include distribution centers, warehouses and manufacturing facilities.

Hendry Population: 39,786
Population Growth Rate (2008-12): 0.39%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
23.45% 7.74% 28.49% 28.55% 11.79%
Per Capita Income: $30,196

Glades Population: 13,488
Population Growth Rate (2008-12): 1.41%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
16.22% 5.07% 24.81% 31.87% 22.03%
Per Capita Income: $24,908


DeSoto/Highlands/Hardee Counties

National Solar Power
National Solar Power will build a 200-megawatt solar farm in Hardee County.
Highlands EnviroFuels, which aims to use non-food-based sweet sorghum and biofuel cane to make 30 million gallons of advanced biofuel ethanol per year, is close to being fully financed and is on target for a groundbreaking this year, says project manager Bradley Krohn. The new plant, which will be at the southwest corner of U.S. 27 and State Road 70 in south Highlands County, has nine local growers invested in the project. An economic impact study conducted by John Urbanchuk at Cardno Entrix indicates that the project will generate 740 jobs (60 direct jobs, 470 indirect jobs and 210 induced jobs) throughout Highlands County.

While Hardee County lost out on its bid to become home to the world's largest solar farm — the project went to Gadsden County — National Solar Power will build a 200-megawatt solar farm in Hardee County. The $700-million project is expected to create 200 jobs during the five-year construction phase and as many as 50 permanent operations jobs.

DeSoto Population: 35,815
Population Growth Rate (2008-12): 1.03%
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: $25,155

Highlands Population: 105,597
Population Growth Rate (2008-12): 1.48%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
15.18% 5.07% 17.71% 29.39% 32.66%
Per Capita Income: $30,963

Hardee Population: 28,302
Population Growth Rate (2008-12): 0.63%
Population by Age:
0-14 15-19 20-39 40-64 65+
23.44% 7.03% 28.19% 28.16% 13.18%
Per Capita Income: $30,196