2019 Economic Outlook
A look back - and ahead - at the economy in Southwest Florida
Bradenton / Sarasota Issues...
Traffic: Hoping to boost traffic safety at the busy University Parkway interchange at I-75, the Florida Department of Transportation converted the existing partial cloverleaf junction to a diverging diamond interchange that some local residents feared would confuse drivers. During the first 12 months after the interchange opened in 2017, the diverging diamond saw 13 accidents, down from 28 the year before when the interchange was a partial cloverleaf. The DOT now wants to create a diverging diamond-interchange one exit south at Sarasota’s Fruitville Road.
Redevelopment: A one-time seedy section of Bradenton south of downtown continues to improve and expand. The city’s Village of the Arts, once a neighborhood of rundown bungalows and Florida Cracker-style homes, is now home to nearly 40 businesses, including art galleries, artist studios, restaurants, specialty stores and a craft beer brewery. At 36 acres, the village has evolved into one of the biggest artist colonies along Florida’s west coast.
Fort Myers / Naples Issues...
Algae: Last year, Southwest Florida suffered from both red tide and green algae blooms. Sanibel Island businesses alone reported more than $26 million in revenue lost over the summer and fear the blooms will be back in 2019. “Whether state environmental and health agencies will learn and adapt is the big issue,” says John Cassani, the founding member of Calusa Waterkeeper, a non-profit dedicated to the protection of the Caloosahatchee River and other near-shore waters in Southwest Florida. “The outlook for 2019 is one of hope that state agencies will begin the process of effectively managing nutrient pollution that is the underlying cause of harmful algal blooms and perhaps reinstate the Florida Harmful Algal Bloom Task Force that was defunded in 2001.”
Storm Preparedness: Lessons learned from Hurricane Irma, which came ashore Sept. 10, 2017, in Marco Island, continue to guide Collier County emergency officials as they prepare for the next storm. Among the efforts: Adding more fuel storage and generators at gas stations so the stations won’t run out of gas, and, to reduce power outages, working with utilities to replace wooden utility poles with stronger, concrete supports.
County Business Briefs
CITRUS COUNTY —Commissioners oppose a proposal to store arsenic-laced sludge at a limestone quarry near Crystal River. The commissioners fear the material, which dates to the 1960s and originated from a Fort Myers-area water treatment plant, could pollute Citrus waterways, although Fort Myers and state Department of Environmental Protection officials insist the plan is safe.
CHARLOTTE COUNTY —Work is underway to create a pickleball complex at the Charlotte County campus of SouthWestern State College. The facility, to be called PicklePlex of Punta Gorda, will house eight indoor courts, 32 outdoor courts, a fitness center, a restaurant, meeting rooms and enough space to host pickleball tournaments. The first 16 courts should be completed by later this year.
DESOTO COUNTY —The Rosin Arcade, a 30,000-sq.-ft. building in Arcadia’s antique-store district, was sold for $700,000. The property, built in 1926, includes antique stores, 23 apartments and restaurant/bar space. The buyer is Sarasota Trading Company Direct.
- A 31-acre site in DeSoto County’s Fort Ogden community has sold for $800,000. The property is zoned to become a recreational vehicle resort.
GLADES COUNTY —After opening a manufacturing facility in Moore Haven in 2017, Maxant Buttons expanded by purchasing Mike’s Aluminum Products in 2018. The company, now called Maxant Aluminum Products, produces aluminum buttons and other aluminum products. Moore Haven is also home to Burma Spice, a spice maker that plans to add eight jobs.
HARDEE COUNTY —A bat infestation at the Hardee County Courthouse sickened 13 county employees in September after the employees breathed in fumes and airborne particles from bat droppings. The guano left behind after 1,500 bats were removed from the building in August, has since been removed.
HENDRY COUNTY —The county issued 118 single-family building permits during the first eight months of 2018, more than twice the 57 permits the county issued during the same period in 2017. Growth remains slow: The county’s population is projected to increase just 0.3% annually over the next few years.
HERNANDO COUNTY —Oak Hill Hospital in Spring Hill will undergo an estimated $38.5-million renovation. Seventy private rooms will be added, bringing the hospital’s bed total to 350. Plans are also underway to expand the hospital’s emergency department.
HIGHLANDS COUNTY —The county’s citrus growers produced 7.9 million boxes of fruit during the 2017-18 growing season, making Highlands the second-ranked citrus-growing county in the state. Polk County growers accounted for 9.2 million boxes of fruit. Highlands has 59,000 acres of citrus land in production, while Polk has 69,000.
PASCO COUNTY —Saint Leo University signed an agreement with Barry University School of Law in Orlando that will allow Saint Leo students to begin studying law at Barry after completing a three-year accelerated curriculum at Saint Leo. Both Saint Leo, based in Pasco County, and Barry are Catholic institutions. Saint Leo has a similar program with Florida State University’s law school.
POLK COUNTY —Lakeland-based Publix Super Markets, which is expanding its headquarters by 200,000 square feet and adding 700 jobs, has a new president: Kevin Murphy, formerly the chain’s senior vice president of retail operations. Meanwhile, Laurie Douglas, Publix’s senior vice president and chief information officer, has taken on an additional role as chief digital officer.
Read more in our January issue.
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