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September 24, 2018

Southwest: Diversifying in Paradise

Innovative approaches to development, incentives and hiring yield positive results.

Gary Shepherd | 9/24/2009


“They gave me their board room to do interviews, let me use it like it was my office for a week. Every one of my hires has worked out very well.”

— Mike Forse
Blue Bell Creamery, Punta Gorda

Hiring made easier: Before opening Blue Bell Creameries’ 12,500-square-foot distribution facility at Airport Commerce Center in Punta Gorda in October 2008, branch manager Mike Forse needed to hire 18 employees to deliver ice cream to 250 stores. He called on the Charlotte County Economic Development Office for help. Says Forse, “They gave me their board room to do interviews, let me use it like it was my office for a week. Every one of my hires has worked out very well,”

Recent addition: Arcadia Aerospace Industries moved into Enterprise Charlotte Airport Park in Punta Gorda in fall 2008. Executives chose Charlotte over several competing regions, citing low costs, available incentives and help in setting up workforce training programs at Charlotte Technical Center and Edison State College.

Consolidating operations: ADT, which bills itself as America’s largest security firm, consolidated regional activities and put 130 employees under one roof in Charlotte County in 2008. The resulting economic impact comes to more than $15 million annually.

Ongoing makeover: The redevelopment of Punta Gorda’s downtown that began in 2007 continues with the opening of the 106-room Four Points by Sheraton Punta Gorda Harborside in May 2009 on Charlotte Harbor. This luxury resort spearheads a $1-billion rebranding effort by Starwood Hotels & Resorts. “Punta Gorda is a great choice for our first vacation resort,” says Brian McGuinness, division senior vice president.

Since the redevelopment began, Punta Gorda has added more than 500 new hotel rooms, including the 63-room boutique Wyvern Hotel. Why so many rooms in a town of under 15,000? Proximity to the $19.7-million, 43,500-square-foot Charlotte Harbor Event & Conference Center, for starters. Opened in January 2009, the center boasts a meeting area that can handle 112 booths or theater-style seating for 1,500 delegates.

Servin’ up sides: Conventioneers have plenty of options for side trips in Charlotte County, including Rick Treworgy’s Muscle Car City, a collection of 200 historic GM cars that opened in March 2009 in Punta Gorda. There’s also the newly revitalized stadium at Charlotte Sports Park, spring training venue for the Tampa Bay Rays Major League Baseball team, and the dozens of golf courses that have helped put Charlotte County in the No. 3 position on Golf Digest’s list of “Best Places to Live and Play Golf in America.”

Fly in, fly out: From Charlotte County Airport, Direct Air now flies to Myrtle Beach, Chicago and Kalamazoo; Allegiant Air serves Knoxville and Greenville-Spartanburg. “We’re extremely pleased to add the Charlotte Harbor area to our growing roster of world-class leisure destinations,” says Maurice Gallagher Jr., CEO, Allegiant Air.

Focused on Green:
Florida’s Southwest region has gone green in a big way.

» Charlotte County will host the first Southwest Florida Green Futures Expo/Energy Options Conference in November 2009 to showcase products and services that qualify as green. In May 2009, county commissioners passed the Charlotte County Green Building Ordinance (with fast-track permitting).

» Florida’s first two LEED-certified public school buildings have opened in Charlotte County and several more are under construction.

» The Charlotte-DeSoto Building Industry Association formed a green council in 2009 to further education and awareness of environmentally responsible construction. The U.S. Green Building Council’s Myakka River Branch, which includes Charlotte County, formed in 2009. And the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce’s Sustainable Collier Task Force pushes businesses to go green.

» Florida Power & Light and Kitson & Partners are teaming up to build the world’s first city powered entirely by zero-emission solar energy. The 17,000-acre Babcock Ranch development will feature a 75-megawatt photovoltaic facility — the world’s largest — plus a “smart grid” that will let residents and businesses monitor and control their own energy consumption. All commercial buildings and homes will be certified as energy efficient and constructed according to Florida Green Building standards. “No other place in America will be home to such a concentration of new jobs and technologies, and energy saving advances,” says Syd Kitson, CEO of Palm Beach Gardens-based Kitson & Partners.

Tags: Southwest, Business Florida

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