Made in Lee County
Neil Kagan sees a lot of variety in his role as executive director of the Southwest Regional Manufacturers Association. Lee County is home to companies that make everything from hurricane shutters and garage storage systems to marine air-conditioning units, speaker coils, and medical devices.
“When I tell people what’s here they always say, ‘I didn’t know we did that here.’”
But the companies’ customers sure do, evidenced by the fact that local manufacturers are on the lookout for both more employees and bigger spaces.
Boat manufacturer Nor-Tech recently added a 55,000-square-foot production facility in Cape Coral and has a staff of 155. One of the fastest-growing boat manufacturers in the United States, it custom makes high-performance center console boats and day yachts.
Founded in a garage in the Buckingham area of Lee County, Golden Boat Lifts now employs more than 80 people and operates out of 80,000 square feet of manufacturing space in North Fort Myers. It recently introduced its new free-standing, adjustable hydraulic Tornado Lift and sells its products through dealers all over the world. “Lower median housing costs along with lower property taxes and a good workforce base to draw from, coupled with the hundreds of miles of waterfront property, is a perfect location for a boat lift manufacturer,” says Bill Golden, owner of Golden Boat Lifts.
In June 2019, D3 Glass and its sister company My Shower Door moved into a new 60,000-square-foot facility off of Alico Road in Fort Myers. My Shower Door opened its first Southwest Florida showroom for frameless shower doors in 2003. “But as business grew and we were buying enough glass, we did the math and said we could make our own glass,” says company President Bill Daubmann. They now have more than 100 employees and are expanding into impact-resistant and other glass for exterior use.
Developing and maintaining a local manufacturing workforce is a priority. The School District of Lee County develops career and technical academies at its high schools that address local workforce needs. Students can graduate from South Fort Myers High School as an American Welding Society certified welder or from Ida S. Baker High School in Cape Coral certified in computer-aided design.
Many students are also looking for internship opportunities while still in school. “It’s a good way for business leaders to get a student while they’re still learning and to really prepare them for a position upon graduation,” says Gregory K. Adkins, Ed.D., superintendent of the School District of Lee County.
The new Fab Lab at the IMAG History & Science Center in Fort Myers will help introduce local students to manufacturing career possibilities and serve as a place where entrepreneurs can learn how to create prototypes and eventually manufacture products. It is scheduled to open in 2019 and is supported by businesses like hurricane protection manufacturer Storm Smart.