Consisting of just three counties, Florida’s Southwest is the state’s smallest region by land size, but it carries a powerful punch. Its largest county — Collier — is Florida’s second richest by per capita income and offers the second longest life expectancy. Lee County, home to Fort Myers and Cape Coral, is among Florida’s fastest growing counties, this year logging a 21.6% increase in population since 2010. And Charlotte County, strategically located along I-75 between Tampa and Miami, continues to shine as a logistical powerhouse, providing ready access to a potential 4 million customers within a 90-mile radius. Thriving industry clusters in this region include life sciences, logistics and technology.
Life Sciences & Health Care
Global medical device manufacturer Arthrex, a fixture in Collier County since 1991, has moved into its new 300,000-sq.-ft., six-story headquarters building in Naples. Under construction since 2018, the building is one of three new structures Arthrex will debut at its Naples campus this year. Also new to this company’s campus: a four-story, 160-room hotel to accommodate physicians who come to Naples for training in the surgical devices developed at Arthrex; and a two-story, 38,000-sq.-ft. wellness and medical center housing a fitness center and medical clinic for employees and their families.
Elsewhere in the region, NeoGenomics, a specialist in cancer genetics testing and information services, is building a 150,000-sq.-ft. headquarters on 14 acres of land just west of I-75 near Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers. The $60-million project, which will include a space for laboratory and corporate support functions, is scheduled for completion in fall 2021.
Fort Myers-based Florida Cancer Specialists & Research Institute now has about 100 locations throughout Florida, including new offices in Wesley Chapel, Ocala, Lake Mary and Sebring. The firm, which opened its first office in 1984, is today the largest independent medical oncology/hematology practice in the U.S.
Medical manufacturing firm EmCyte is breaking ground in the fields of sports medicine, orthopedics and chronic wound care with production of devices for extracting platelet-rich plasma at its 30,000-sq.-ft. state-of-the-art facility in Fort Myers.
And health care facilities across this region are also continuing to adapt and grow:
• A $315-million expansion/renovation was already underway at Gulf Coast Medical Center in Fort Myers when the COVID-19 pandemic struck west Florida in March 2020. To accommodate a suddenly growing population of coronavirus patients, the hospital fast-tracked its construction project, and on April 2 — two months ahead of schedule — opened 250 beds on three new floors. Still to come: expansion of the emergency department, clinical laboratory, radiology department, dining services and central energy plant. When the project is fully completed in fall 2021, Gulf Coast’s total bed capacity will increase from 356 to 624, making this the largest hospital between Sarasota and Miami.
• In a unique partnership, two children’s health care facilities — Golisano Children’s Hospital of South Florida in Fort Myers and Johns Hopkins All Children’s Hospital in St. Petersburg — have teamed up to provide seamless pediatric care across Florida’s west coast. The new agreement between the two facilities, which took effect in October 2019, gives providers at both locations medical privileges to admit and treat pediatric patients at either hospital. Bottom line: Every child has access to the best health care regardless of where he/she lives along the gulf coast in west Florida.
• And in the battle against superbugs, Southwest Florida’s NCH Healthcare System has a new high-tech weapon. In addition to using traditional methods of disinfection, the Naples-based hospital chain has introduced portable machines that destroy germs with intense pulses of UV light. The machines, which cost more than $100,000 each, kill microorganisms and pathogens such as MRSA, Ebola and coronavirus, as well as viruses that can cause the flu.
KEY PLAYERS: Arthrex, Naples; Golisano Children’s Hospital of South Florida, Fort Myers; Gulf Coast Medical Center, Fort Myers; NeoGenomics, Fort Myers
Logistics & Transportation
Companies of every size in Southwest Florida enjoy ready accessibility to domestic and international markets. I-75 bisects the region from north to south linking distributors in these three counties to major population centers throughout the Southeast and putting five deep-water ports within a half-day’s drive. Not surprisingly, it is this very proximity to widespread markets that has helped the Southwest region establish its reputation as a leader in logistics and distribution.
Among companies that have been drawn here as a result is foodservice distributor Cheney Brothers. Headquartered in Riviera Beach on Florida’s east coast, this nearly 100-year-old family-owned and operated firm chose to site its fifth distribution center in Punta Gorda in 2015. Opened with 250,000 square feet, the facility has since expanded to 345,000 square feet and is in the process of completing an $8.6 million, 80,000-sq.-ft. expansion of its food service distribution operation. At the same time, Cheney Brothers’ success in Charlotte County has prompted one of its suppliers — Miami-based Amigo Pallets — to open its own warehouse in Punta Gorda.
Companies growing distribution capabilities in Fort Myers include:
• Online e-commerce giant Amazon, which has opened a 60,000-sq.-ft. delivery station inside a former warehouse.
• Fast-growing logistics and transportation firm Scotlynn USA, building a new 60,000-sq.-ft., $11-million headquarters with the goal of becoming a world-class leader in freight transportation and the distribution of perishable products. At least 140 new hires are expected within three years as a result, with an eventual goal of housing 350+ management and operations staff in the new facility.
And supporting this region’s logistical clout are two commercial airports:
• Southwest Florida International Airport in Fort Myers, where construction continues on an $80-million air traffic control tower. The new 200-foot tower, which replaces the existing 90-foot tower opened in 1983, features a 15,000-sq.-ft. operations building at its base. When completed in late 2022, the new tower will accommodate 40 air traffic control workers and position the airport to potentially add a second runway. Southwest Florida International, which is currently the second-busiest one-runway public airport in the nation, served a record 10.2 million passengers in 2019, a 9.1% increase over 2018 traffic.
• Punta Gorda Airport, logging 1.6 million passengers in 2019 aboard its single carrier — Allegiant — which provides nonstop air service from Charlotte County to more than 45 U.S. destinations. And new to the airport grounds in 2020: AeroGuard Flight Training Center, which opened its first East Coast campus here in January. Headquartered in Phoenix, AeroGuard provides career-focused accelerated commercial pilot training.
KEY PLAYERS: Arcadia Aerospace Industries, Punta Gorda; Cheney Brothers, Riviera Beach; Intrepid Aerospace, Fort Myers; Amazon, Seattle, Wa.
Business Services & Technology
Alta Resources, a Wisconsin-based global customer service outsourcing company, has announced plans to construct a $21-million, 90,000-sq.-ft. office building at Skyplex, the new commercial park/office project adjacent to Southwest Florida International Airport. Alta, which expanded to Fort Myers in 2013, currently has about 600 employees in Southwest Florida. The firm’s expansion to Skyplex is expected to create at least another 400 more.
Fort Myers-based CallMiner has received its largest single investment ever — $75 million. The firm, which created the software platform Eureka, uses artificial intelligence and machine learning to analyze customer reactions via call centers and other channels to help financial institutions and communications companies improve customer service and efficiency. CallMiner plans to use the funds to grow its customer base in the U.S., where it primarily works now, and to expand worldwide.
HVAC services firm Conditioned Air Company has moved into its newly constructed 52,710-sq.-ft. Lee/Charlotte Operations Center in Fort Myers. Founded in 1962 and headquartered in Naples, Conditioned Air currently employs 370, providing expertise in light commercial and residential HVAC systems across Collier, Lee, Charlotte, Sarasota and Manatee counties.
KEY PLAYERS: Alta Resources, Fort Myers; ASG Technologies, Naples; Cigent Technology, Fort Myers; Gartner, Fort Myers; Zypha Corporation, Port Charlotte
Southwest Florida is home to Florida Gulf Coast University, which earned two spots on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Regional Universities South rankings. Among Top Public Schools FGCU was ranked No. 28 and among Most Innovative Schools, No. 12. Opened in 1997, Florida Gulf Coast offers 58 undergraduate and 31 graduate degrees, plus workshops and counseling for entrepreneurs. In May 2020, FGCU launched Restart SWFL, an initiative dedicated to helping Southwest Florida businesses respond to the impact of COVID-19 on their operations, workforce, vendors and customers.
Also providing higher education opportunities in this region are two private universities: Hodges, with campuses in Naples and Fort Myers, and Ave Maria, a Catholic university and town created by Domino’s Pizza founder Tom Monaghan; and Florida SouthWestern State College offering baccalaureate, associate and certificate programs at its main campus in Fort Myers and satellite campuses in Charlotte and Collier counties. And at its Corporate Training Center in Bonita Springs, Florida SouthWestern provides customized programs specifically tailored to the needs of Southwest employers, including Arthrex, Cheney Brothers and Gartner.
Life & Leisure
Florida’s Southwest offers an abundance of activities and man-made attractions, including quaint shops and galleries, symphony orchestras, theaters, festivals and museums. Naples boasts a zoo that began 100 years ago as a botanical garden, and Fort Myers is home to the Edison and Ford Winter Estates, where the legendary Thomas Edison and his friend Henry Ford were snowbirds together in the 1920s and ‘30s. For sports fans, there’s MLB spring training baseball — the Minnesota Twins and Boston Red Sox in Fort Myers and the Tampa Bay Rays in Port Charlotte along with BMX bicycle racing and Pickleball in Punta Gorda (the first ever World Pickleball Championship took place here in 2019). And there’s plenty of natural beauty to enjoy here too: Ten Thousand Islands, Big Cypress Preserve, Everglades National Park, Sanibel Island and Corkscrew Swamp Sanctuary, plus miles and miles of coastal waters for fishing, swimming, boating, beachcombing and birdwatching.
Florida’s Southwest is a hotbed of entrepreneurial activity and here’s the proof. Three cities in the region have been named among the nation’s top 10 “entrepreneurial ecosystems” by the new think tank Heartland Forward. The honors go to Punta Gorda (No. 7); Naples (No. 8); and Cape Coral (No. 10) based on two factors influencing job growth: the community’s share of employment by small firms and the number of college-educated employees in those firms.
There’s Green Development too.Babcock Ranch, Southwest Florida’s solar-powered community planned for up to 50,000 residents and 19,500 homes continues to grow. Powered by a 440-acre solar plant producing close to 75 megawatts of electricity, Babcock Ranch is largely self-contained; it has its own school, downtown district dubbed Founders Square, Healthy Life Center with exercise facilities and medical offices, meeting rooms and a park with tennis, pickleball and basketball courts. Of its 18,000 available acres, half are set aside as greenways, parks and interconnected lakes. And coming in summer 2021: a 48,387-sq.-ft. Publix supermarket with a drive-through pharmacy to serve as the anchor for an 82,640-sq.-ft. shopping center. Construction is scheduled to begin in late 2020.
Looking to live a longer life? Head to Florida’s Southwest. Each of this region’s three counties boasts a life expectancy of 80 years or more, according to U.S. News & World Report’s 2019 Healthiest Communities rankings. And in the 2020 study by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and the University of Wisconsin, Collier County held steady as the second-healthiest county in Florida for the seventh consecutive year — and not by accident.
In 2015, the Collier County-based NCH Healthcare System, a network of hospitals, outpatient facilities and emergency medical centers throughout Southwest Florida, signed on to the Blue Zones Project, a nationwide initiative to promote health and wellness across the U.S., one community at a time. NCH employees signed a pledge to improve their health by incorporating better practices in their daily lives and, as word spread, members of the community at large began to join in too. In 2017, NCH became the first certified Blue Zone worksite in Florida with more than half of its workforce — about 2,150 employees — signing on to the program.