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[Photo: Amber Frederiksen]

Traditionally, Collier County has been defined by agriculture out east, upscale tourism along the Gulf Coast — and the massive wealth of Naples residents attracted by the area’s climate, understated Midwestern ambience and out-of-the-way location. Today, Naples, the county’s biggest city, has a median household income of $74,959. A study by Forbes found that more wealthy people moved to Collier County in 2008 than any other county in the United States. For years, a number of top-level executives from major multinational firms have maintained homes in the area, jetting in on weekends for golf and recreation. The affluence is visible everywhere from multimillion-dollar beachfront homes to the city’s lively downtown restaurant scene, an impressive array of cultural amenities and the Naples Winter Wine Festival, which since 2001 has raised some $82.6 million for non-profits that help underprivileged and at-risk children.

In the years since the mid-1980s, when the construction of the Ritz-Carlton beach resort drew the attention of the outside world to Naples, the growing financial and intellectual horsepower in town has spawned or attracted several notable businesses, including Arthrex, which has developed 5,000 medical products. The area is also home to Health Management Associates, which operates 58 hospitals in 15 states. Thanks to 5,000 acres from the influential Barron Collier Cos., Collier County has a new town, Ave Maria, with its own university, in the eastern part of the county. Eight companies on Florida Trend’s list of the state’s 350 biggest public and private companies are based in Collier County.

Overall, however, the area’s economy has remained entrenched in agriculture, tourism and upscale development. The poverty of many agricultural workers in eastern Collier stands in shocking counterpoint to the wealth along the coast.

While some residents prefer things the way they’ve been, others are pushing harder to build a more robust business community outside the traditional base. Hoping to lure high-tech industry to southwest Florida, the Collier County Economic Development Council launched Project Innovation two years ago. The effort is focused on getting local business leaders to reach consensus on how to attract innovative companies and high-wage jobs. Collier County is a regional hub for the Florida Economic Gardening Institute’s technical assistance program. With 64 counselors, SCORE Naples is the largest business consulting organization in southwest Florida.

Some believe the effort to land Jackson Laboratory could be pivotal to the area’s future. The Maine-based research institute wants to locate a branch in eastern Collier that would employ 200. But the state and county have yet to finalize an incentive package, and local political friction means the lab could end up in another Florida city ["A Bid for Biotech"].

A Community Portrait of Naples
Naples - Bayfront Inn
The view from Bayfront Inn. Naples is awash in upscale condos and restaurants. [Photo:Amber Frederiksen]

Who Lives Here?


» Naples: 21,651 (up 5.8% since 2000)

» Immokalee (unincorporated community): 20,000-plus

» Marco Island: 16,816

» Naples Manor: 6,398

» Everglades City: 616

» Ave Marie: 550, not including students enrolled at Ave Maria University

» Collier County: 333,032, with 90% of the population living in urban areas. Peak season population swells to nearly 400,000 countywide.

Key Demographics

» White, non-Hispanic: 92.1% in the city; 67.6% in the county

» African-American: 4.1% city; 5.8% county

» Hispanic: 2.8% city; 25.1 county

» Collier County has the largest land area (2,025 square miles) of any county in Florida. It ranks 15th in population.

» The county’s median age of 44.3 is are nearly four years older than the state’s median age. More than 25% of the county’s residents are 65 or older, compared with 17.1% statewide.

» Nearly 24% of the county’s residents are foreign born, compared with 18.7% statewide.

» Residents are more likely to have dropped out of school — 15.8% lack high school diplomas compared with 15.1% statewide — but are more likely to have a graduate or professional degree: 11.6% vs. 9% statewide.

» Naples residents stay put. From 2006 to 2008, 91% lived in the same home they lived in a year earlier.


» Collier County’s voters are mostly Republican: 91,711, compared with 46,116 Democrats. The rest of the county’s 179,979 registered voters are categorized as “other.” The McCain/Palin ticket won the 2008 presidential election in Collier County, 60.8% to 38.3% for Obama/Biden.

Economic Life

» Housing costs push the cost of living in Naples well above the U.S. average (110 vs. 100 for the U.S. average). This summer, the median home sales price in Naples was $201,000, compared with $140,400 statewide. The cost of living countywide is slightly less than the national average.

» About 10% of county residents have incomes below the poverty level, compared with the statewide average of 12.6%.

» In Naples, the median household income is $74,959, compared with the state average of $47,802. Meanwhile, 61% of households receive Social Security and 29% received retirement income apart from Social Security.

Economic Engines

Ave Maria
Barron Collier Cos. donated land for the town of Ave Maria in eastern Collier County.

» The history of the Barron Collier Cos. began in 1911, when Barron Gift Collier Sr., who had already made millions from a streetcar advertising business in New York City, visited southwest Florida and purchased Useppa Island for $100,000. Today, the development company he founded is one of the county’s biggest employers. Apart from having a hand in developing the town of Ave Maria and the Grey Oaks community, the company also develops shopping centers and office parks and has interests in agriculture, oil and minerals. Collier Enterprises, another Collier family-related company, is also a major player. Collier Enterprises, founded in 1976 by Collier family member Miles C. Collier, develops commercial properties, housing communities and golf and yacht clubs. Over the next 12 to 15 years, Collier Enterprises plans to develop a new town called Big Cypress in eastern Collier County. Big Cypress could have as many as 9,000 homes on 2,800 acres.

Naples - Ritz-Carlton
Hyde Park Prime Steakhouse in Sarasota [Photo: Mark Wieland]

» The Ritz-Carlton Naples played a trailblazing role in helping build Naples’ reputation as luxury vacation destination. Overlooking the Gulf of Mexico, the resort has 450 rooms and routinely wins top ratings from AAA, Mobil and Conde Nast Traveler.

Farmworkers swell the county's population during harvest season.
» A joint effort of the Barron Collier Cos., Pulte Homes and the Ave Maria University Foundation, the town of Ave Maria, located on 5,000 acres in eastern Collier County, is showing promise at attracting development to what used to be a mostly rural area. Construction began in 2005, just before the real estate bubble burst, so growth has been slow. Highlights, apart from the growth of the university and its law school, include a new Publix and single-family homes ranging from the mid-$100,000s to the mid-$400,000. At build-out, developers say the town will have 11,000 homes.

» Most of the year, Immokalee is a small agricultural community with about 20,000 residents. But the population swells to 40,000 during the October-through-May vegetable growing season, mainly because of an influx of migrant farmworkers. Collier County government and economic development officials are looking to spur development in the town by offering incentives for businesses to expand or move there. Ecotourism is one potential growth area. Also, an Immokalee Community Redevelopment Agency is looking to update the streetscape along Immokalee’s central business district.

Health Management Associates
National hospital company Health Management Associates
is based in Naples.

» NCH Healthcare System has 681 beds in two hospitals and, with more than 5,000 workers, is the county’s largest private employer. Physician’s Regional Health Care System, which also has two hospitals, is owned by Health Management Associates, a national hospital company that’s headquartered in Naples. Collier Health Services operates 12 healthcare facilities, including the Ronald McDonald Care Mobile, a 40-foot-long pediatric office on wheels that delivers healthcare to needy children throughout the county. Last year, the private, non-profit organization provided services to more than 47,000 patients. Nearly two-thirds were children.


» Southwest Florida International Airport, the nearest international airport, is in Lee County, but Collier County has several airports of its own, including the Naples Municipal Airport, Marco Island Executive Airport, the Immokalee Regional Airport and the Everglades Airpark. The U.S. Customs service is building an office at Naples Municipal so pilots and passengers flying from the Caribbean won’t have to stop at a larger airport first to clear customs.

Naples Municipal Airport
U.S. Customs is building an office at Naples Municipal Airport.


» Along the coast, Naples boasts some of the most luxurious resorts in the state. In 2009, 1.3 million people visited Collier, down from 1.4 million in 2008. The economic impact of 2009’s tourists was estimated at $1.13 billion. According to the August 2010 Visitor Profile by the Naples, Marco Island, Everglades Convention and Visitors Bureau, 87.1% of visitors said they were interested in the county’s “white, sandy beaches.” More than 30,000 people are employed in the tourism industry.


» Catholic-oriented Ave Maria University, located on a 1,000-acre campus in eastern Collier County, has 710 undergraduate students, as well as a law school. The university offers an array of bachelor’s degrees, including biology, economics, history and literature. Founded by Domino’s Pizza creator Thomas S. Monaghan, the university opened its doors in Florida seven years ago, thanks to an initial donation of $250 million from Monaghan and a land donation from the Barron Collier Cos. The university has also spurred the development of the town of Ave Maria. Other major colleges include Edison State College, which has a 50-acre campus five miles north of downtown Naples; Hodges University, which has campuses in Naples and Fort Myers; and Barry University, which also hosts classes in Naples and Fort Myers.


» The state’s real estate struggles haven’t completely stopped development in Collier County. Although based in Lee County’s Bonita Springs, development company WCI Communities is a major player in Collier County’s development scene, with projects such as Tiburon, Artesia and Hammock Bay. WCI’s Manchester Square is slated to be a gated community with 117 homes in North Naples. Collier Enterprises has Collier’s Reserve, a 244-home country club community along the Cocohatchee River, and Sabal Bay, a planned 1,500-acre community in south Naples that would have no more 1,659 residential units.

Notable Firms

» Health Management Associates — The Naples-based operator of acute-care medical hospitals operates 58 hospitals in 15 states. The hospitals have a combined 8,600 beds and 32,000 employees. The company’s medical staff includes 8,000 physicians. With revenue of $4.6 billion, the company is No. 17 on Florida Trend’s list of the state’s 150 biggest public companies in Florida.

» Beasley Broadcast Group — The Naples broadcasting company employs about 600 and has revenue of about $100 million. It is No. 107 on Trend’s public companies list.

» TIB Financial — No. 108 on Trend’s public company list, the banking company had $95.2 million in revenue last year.

» Naturipe Farms — A grower-owned producer and marketer of strawberries, blackberries, cranberriers and many other berries, Naples-based Naturipe Farms works with growers in North America and South America to ensure fresh berries year-round.

» Bank of Florida — The Naples banking services company had $80.3 million in revenue last year, ranking it No. 113 on Trend’s public company list.

» Arthrex — The medical device and design company, which targets arthroscopic surgery, has revenue of $800 million.

Arthrex sells medical products in more than 60 countries.

» Structure Medical — Founded in Naples in 2004, fast-growing Structure Medical makes medical implant products used by orthopedic surgeons to treat trauma, sports injuries, degenerative diseases, tumors and congenital conditions.

» Allen Systems Group — The software company, with revenue of $267.6 million, is No. 86 on Trend’s private companies list.

» Kraft Construction — The Naples-based builder has revenue of $265 million. In 2008, Manhattan Construction Group acquired a controlling interest in Kraft.

» Boran Craig Barber Engel Construction — The general contractor has revenue of $239.6 million and is No. 96 on Trend’s private company list.

» WilsonMiller Stantec — Headquartered in Naples, the planning, design and engineering firm employs 275 and has offices throughout the state, including Tallahassee, Jacksonville and Tampa.

» Fifth Third Bank (South Florida) — A subsidiary of Fifth Third Bancorp., the Naples-based bank is a major employer.

Big Employers

» NCH Healthcare System: 5,000

» Collier County School District: 4,728

» Publix Super Markets: 3,246

» Marriott: 2,328

» Walmart: 1,715

» Collier County Sheriff’s Office: 1,029

» Winn Dixie Stores: 1,014

» Home Depot: 1,012

» Gargiulo: 800

» Pacific Tomato Growers: 800

» Downing-Frye Realty: 700

» Naples Grande Resort & Club: 700

» Southwestern Florida Farmers: 700

» Department of Corrections: 678

» Coldwell Banker/Century 21: 595

Must Know Contacts

George Beasley
» Arthur L. Allen — Founder/president/CEO, ASG Software Solutions

» George Beasley — Founder, Beasley Broadcast Group

» Lois Bolin — Co-founder, Naples Backyard History

» Timothy J. Cartwright — Managing director, Fifth Avenue Advisors

Myrna Janco Daniels
» Myra Janco Daniels — CEO/founder, Philharmonic Center for the Arts

» Tom Flood — President/CEO, Collier Enterprises

» Jeffrey D. Fridkin and Dick Grant — Attorneys, Grant, Fridkin, Pearson, Athan & Crown

» Blake Gable — President of real estate and minerals management, Barron Collier Cos.

» J. Dudley Goodlette — Departing former state representative, chief of staff for outgoing House Speaker Larry Cretul

» Chick Heithaus — Chairman, SCORE Naples

» Bud Hornbeck — President/CEO, Lutgert Insurance

» Barbara Mainster — Executive director, Redlands Christian MigrantAssociation, Immokalee

» Dave Neill — President/publisher, Naples Daily News

Fred Pezeshkan
» Tammie Nemecek — President/CEO, Economic Development Council of Collier County

» Bill O'Neill — Partner, Roetzel & Andress; chairman, Economic Development Council of Collier County

» Fred Pezeshkan — CEO, Kraft Construction

» Penny S. Phillippi — Executive director, Immokalee Community Redevelopment Agency

Garrett Richter
» John Pinholster — COO, Regenesis Power

» Mike Reagen — President & CEO, Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce

» Alan Reynolds — Vice president, WilsonMiller Stantec

» Garrett Richter — State senator, First National Bank of the Gulf Coast

» Julie A. Schmelzle — Senior vice president, Bank of America

» Reinhold Schmieding — President/founder, Arthrex

» Bill Schoen — Chairman, Health Management Associates

» Bob Scott — Chairman, Naples Winter Wine Festival/Naples Children & Education Foundation

» Katie Sproul — Chair, Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce (Barron Collier Companies)

» Ed Staros — Vice president and managing director, Ritz-Carlton Resort of Naples

» Lee Weeks — CEO, Coral Hospitality

» LeNoir "Len" E. Zaiser — President/CEO/founder, Structure Medical

Quality of Life


» The historic downtown, which includes a fishing pier and views of the Gulf of Mexico and Naples Bay, features the Crayton Cove and Tin City districts. The restaurant and gallery scene is vibrant, with upscale dining and shops along Third Street South, Fifth Avenue South and the Bayfront neighborhood. The downtown hosts multiple festivals and events, from the Downtown Naples Festival of the Arts in March to New Year’s Eve fireworks over the Naples Pier.

Naples Botanical Garden
Naples Botanical Garden


» Parts of Collier County are as remote and wild as any land in the state. The Big Cypress National Preserve takes up most of the county’s southeast corner. Everglades National Park extends into the southern part of the county, as well. Some of the only remaining habitat for the Florida panther is in Collier County. Conservation groups are working to create a panther habitat corridor through Collier that would link panther conservation lands in Lee and Hendry counties. The area is also popular with birders.

» The Conservancy of Southwest Florida is an environmental policy group founded in 1964 that has more than 5,000 members. The group operates a facility in Naples that includes a Nature Center and Wildlife Clinic along with space for educational and research activities. The facility recently underwent a $20-million renovation.

» This year, the county’s Freedom Park won a “project of the year” award from the Florida Association of County Engineers and Road Superintendents. The park has 3,800 feet of boardwalks, two miles of walking trails and more than 10,000 recently planted plants and trees.

Dawn's Forest
Part of Louise Nevelson’s “Dawn’s Forest,” 1986, painted balsa-plywood at the Naples Museum of Art.
Arts & Leisure

» The Philharmonic Center for the Arts is a major cultural destination in southwest Florida, with a 1,425-seat main hall, a 282-seat theater and the Naples Museum of Art. Under the direction of Myra Janco Daniels, the complex employs 445 full- and part-time employees. The museum recently added a significant collection of sculptures by Louise Nevelson, called “Dawn’s Forest.” Now part of the museum’s permanent collection, the Nevelson sculptures hadn’t been shown in a museum before.

» The 170-acre Naples Botanical Garden has a children’s garden, a Brazilian garden and a Caribbean garden. Gardens in the works include a Florida garden, an Asian garden and a water garden. The garden reopened last year after a major renovation.

» The Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples is under construction in the North Collier Regional Park. The $25-million museum is scheduled to open in 2012 and will include a giant indoor banyan tree, which cost $500,000.

Golisano Children's Museum of Naples
The Golisano Children’s Museum of Naples is under construction.

» Naples has been trying to entice the Chicago Cubs to relocate the team’s spring training facilities from Arizona.

Naples Zoo
Naples Zoo
» The Naples Winter Wine Festival has raised $82.6 million since 2001, including $8.1 million this year. The money goes to organizations that help at-risk children. One highlight is the auction at the Ritz-Carlton Golf Resort. In 2007, a $2-million bid won a Rolls-Royce Phantom Coupe.

» The Naples Zoo at Caribbean Gardens features a lush setting with lions, kangaroos, monkeys, lemurs, tigers, leopards, and other animals. The zoo’s giraffe habitat is to open in 2012.

Taxes and Government

» Collier County ranks fourth among Florida’s 67 counties in total taxies levied per capita. Collier County bonds carry an “AA” Fitch rating. According to an analysis by the Naples Daily News, the county carries more debt per person than every other county in Florida except for Duval and Miami-Dade.


» In 2009, Collier County ranked 11th lowest among Florida’s 67 counties in crime per 100,000 population.


» K-12: Of the county’s 50 elementary, middle and high schools, 21 received A’s, 6 B’s, 11 C’s and 2 D’s. One school received an F for the 2009-10 school year. SAT scores for the county’s high school students were one point above the state average in reading and math. Slightly less than half of all high school seniors took the college-entry test.

Why I Live Here

Laird A. Lile
I got lucky! We moved to Naples in the mid-1980s while I was still a young lawyer and have never thought of leaving. After graduating from the College of William & Mary in Virginia with a business degree and Ohio Northern University Law School, we moved to Miami, where I worked for a large law firm while earning an LL.M. degree in estate planning at the University of Miami. It was a terrific experience, yet my wife and I knew the big city wasn’t ideal for us long term.

Initially, we considered returning to our native Ohio to establish my legal practice focusing on estates and trusts. Once we visited Naples, however, we knew we’d found home. So rather than build a practice in Ohio and later follow my clients to Naples, I decided to move to Naples and welcome retiring Buckeyes (and others, of course).

Nearly everyone here is from somewhere else, which makes it easier for newcomers to assimilate into the community. Naples is like the Midwest without the snow — it’s a friendly, welcoming area with a well-rounded offering of business, cultural, recreational and entertainment opportunities. And I can walk to work without snow boots.

Our kids are now teenagers and are thriving in the public education system in Collier County. As I travel around the country for legal conferences, it only takes one mention of Naples for acquaintances to say, “Lucky you!” reminding me just how good we have it.

Attorney Laird A. Lile