Economic Yearbook 2007
SOUTHWEST: New Directions
A commercial boom.
TRENDS: A booming commercial construction market is supplanting the stagnant residential market. … In Lee County, two new regional shopping malls have opened, and the Southwest Florida Regional Medical Center and Gulf Coast Hospital are undergoing a $200-million expansion. … In Collier County, government-related building will continue. … In Charlotte County, meanwhile, new office space and distribution facilities are finally lifting the area out of its Hurricane Charley malaise. “We’ve had very little space available for a new company to locate in Charlotte County. Now that picture is changing entirely,” says Charlotte County Economic Development Director Betty Williams.
CHALLENGES: Low wages combined with low unemployment rates and a continuing lack of enough high-skilled, high-paying jobs. More than half of the region’s jobs are in the low-wage service and retail sectors.
HOT SPOT: Florida Power & Light’s plans to build a coal-fired plant in Glades County, where per-capita income is just $21,638, would create 1,600 construction jobs for five years and come with an average payroll of $275 million per year. At build-out, the plant would provide 180 permanent full-time jobs with an average salary of $60,000 and add $21 million to the tax base. Neighboring Hendry County stands to pull in an estimated $3 million a year from a substation and lines that would run through the county.
TARGET DEVELOPMENT: With demand for downtown office space so great that the vacancy rate is just 3%, local leaders are looking to transform a five-mile stretch of U.S. 41 that runs from downtown Sarasota in the south to Bowlees Creek in Manatee County in the north. The project, called Innovation41, seeks improvements in signage, landscaping and streetscapes to create a more vibrant, walkable district that can attract a mix of affordable housing, small-scale shops, restaurants and businesses to the area, which will be renamed The Renaissance Trail. “We’re transforming a busy commercial roadway into an education and entertainment pathway through town with a lot of mixed uses,” says David Voss, project manager for Innovation41.
» Discovery Technology International has granted Boston-based ESA Biosciences exclusive rights to market its BioStat device, which can detect free radicals like nitric oxide, hydrogen sulfide and superoxide. The company also manufactures equipment used by scientists to move lasers, mirrors or microprobes by the tiniest increments. President and founder Mark Broderick projects $70 million in sales growth by the end of 2011.
» Rain forest researcher and New College professor Meg Lowman is spearheading an effort to create a biological research station at Carlton Reserve, a county-owned wetland.
» An influx of Spanish speakers is fueling business for Nuevo Advertising Group, a fast-growing Sarasota-based company owned by Pedro Perez that specializes in Spanish – language marketing. Nuevo has created Spanish – language ad campaigns for numerous clients, including Waste Management, Bealls, Hooters and the Southwest Florida Water Management District.
» The 2-year-old Industrial Biotechnology Corp. recently signed a five-year deal to provide 600,000 metric tons of ethanol annually for China-based Tianjin Zhongao Group.
» 3D Architectural Solutions, co-owned by Brian Zajac and Brian Smith, converts architectural renderings into photo- realistic computer animations, still renderings and smallscale models. The year-old firm’s clients have included local developers and the FBI. “Locally, we’ve done a $9-million residence on Barefoot Beach, a spec home. The owner was selling the entire thing via the 3-D animation,” says Zajac.
TREND: Upscale retail projects. Benderson Development and Forbes Co. of Southfield, Mich., are preparing to build a mixed-use development called University Town Center on 272 acres at I-75 and University Parkway. With 1.7-million square feet of retail space, the development also will include 1,750 homes, a trolley system, three hotels and parks. Developers say it will generate $500 million in annual sales. “We’re a growing economy, and that makes us more resilient to a lot of these external things like insurance and housing costs,” says Kathy Baylis, president of the Economic Development Corporation of Sarasota County.
WHAT’S HOT: Downtown By Design, the city’s five-year road map for transforming downtown Bradenton into a destination where people can live, shop and work. With 75% of buildings in the downtown core devoted to civic and office space, locals will need to attract more retail and entertainment to the area to create residential appeal. … The $150-million Promenade at Riverwalk condos are sprouting up a short walk from downtown on the site formerly known as the “sand pile.” The luxury waterfront condos are running about six months behind schedule because of the soft real estate market. City officials are also embarking on an effort to revitalize historically neglected areas of east and central Bradenton.
» A designer and manufacturer of standard and customized packaging equipment, New England Machinery has designed a “beltless unscrambler” that sorts and sends randomly situated bottles or containers through an automated production line. The company has also designed a “server capper” system that allows companies to track containers and validate how secure container lids are. Such information is critical in the pharmaceutical and food industries. The privately held company’s sales grew 53% last year.
» Global Modular Concepts hopes to revolutionize residential construction with aerated autoclave concrete, a durable, lightweight and energyefficient building material invented in Sweden that’s created by combining cement, lime, water, sand and aluminum powder. Structures built with aerated autoclave concrete don’t require insulation or drywall: “You can put a 1,200-sq.-ft. home together in three days,” says company President Erwin Andersen.
» Guardian Solutions develops computer- aided surveillance and intelligent video systems used to protect major transportation hubs, financial centers and military facilities around the world. Last year, the company signed a multimillion- dollar contract to upgrade security for off-shore oil production platforms in the Gulf of Mexico for a major U.S. oil company.
TREND: Businesses looking for cheaper office space, room to grow and proximity to Sarasota, Pinellas and Hillsborough counties are flocking to Manatee, where office vacancy is 12.5%.
FAST COMPANIES: In 2005, MadahCom, a digital wireless public warning system manufacturer, opened a facility in Manatee County. … Earlier this year, Dutch company Enza Zaden announced plans to build a $10-million “seed-research campus” in Manatee County, where researchers will work on developing a superior tomato plant. … Animal Replacement Technologies develops next-generation synthetic human cadavers, body parts and tissue that are used by companies like Johnson & Johnson to replace live animals in development tests and by medical educators to replace cadavers.
WHAT’S HOT: Commercial construction is “carrying the market,” says Tammie Nemecek, president of the Economic Development Council of Collier County. After a 50% dropoff in residential housing activity from 2005 to 2006, the local EDC is looking internationally to attract secondhome buyers. While Naples’ banking sector is strong, leisure, hospitality, construction and manufacturing are still the region’s fastest-growing sectors. Naples has become a hot spot for corporate meetings and conventions, drawing such notable companies as Deutsche Bank and Johnson & Johnson.
» Naples Community Hospital Regional Cancer Institute is using painless, cutting-edge technology to eliminate tumors in cancer patients without making an incision. NCH was the 17th hospital in the nation to purchase a CyberKnife, a $4.7-million robotic device that aims hundreds of radiation beams at a tumor simultaneously. The device cuts treatment time from seven weeks to about five days.
» Kim Patrick Kobza’s company, Neighborhood America, builds and manages interactive virtual social networks for major media outlets, governments and corporations. The company created for CNN a Hurricane Katrina “safe list,” allowing storm victims to communicate with friends and relatives. Last year, CBS hired the company to manage viewers’ suggestions for how Katie Couric should sign off each evening. The company recently acquired Movo Mobile in Sarasota to enable it to reach mobile phone customers.
» Arthur Allen started business software maker ASG 20 years ago. Today, the Naples company has more than 900 employees and more than 45 offices. It recently signed its first deal with China.
KEY TREND: The pace of growth in the eastern part of the county is increasing. The town of Ave Maria, the mixed-use development spearheaded by Domino’s Pizza magnate Tom Monaghan, is located 17 miles east of Naples. The development will eventually include a college and up to 11,000 residences, along with retail, entertainment and other commercial businesses. Nearby, Collier Enterprises is planning Big Cypress, a 25,000-resident development that would be built over the next 25 to 30 years. Tammie Nemecek, president of the Economic Development Council of Collier County, expects the new communities in eastern Collier to attract second-home buyers, retirees and working families.
Fort Myers / Cape Coral
CHALLENGE: One of the weakest residential housing markets in the state, according to a recent study by Fishkind & Associates. Condo sales in Fort Myers/ Cape Coral declined 48% in 2006, single-family home sales dropped by 25%, and building permits have dropped off by about half from a year ago. The trend could slow the city’s efforts to revitalize its downtown River District and spill over into the retail and commercial development. … At the same time, persistent red tide is generating concern over the future of the region’s $2-billion tourism industry.
BRIGHT SPOT: Increasing demand for industrial space.
» As it looked for ways to eliminate the Australia-native Melaleuca tree, an invasive plant species in Florida, Forestry Resources owner John Cauthen discovered that Melaleuca made good mulch. Last year the company sold some $17.5 million worth of the mulch and has become the largest colored-mulch processor and supplier in southwest Florida.
» In 1957, Raymond Building Supply Corp. operated the smallest lumberyard in Fort Myers. Today, the company has 650 employees and recently opened three facilities. In 2005, employees earned more than $3 million in incentives from the company’s “safety bonus” program.
» In 2005, the Lee County Building Industry Association launched its Builders Care initiative, a program in which builders donated time, labor and materials to help repair and renovate homes of needy elderly and disabled individuals. The non-profit managed to raise $17,000 from builders to pay for a custom wheelchair for one disabled homeowner and prompted several major builders to commit to future projects.
KEY TRENDS: Job growth and retail development. Two megamalls opened last year — Coconut Point in Estero and Gulf Coast Town Center in San Carlos Park — adding about 3 million square feet of retail space. But with unemployment hovering at 3.3%, shop owners are hardpressed to find employees for the jobs. Since December 2005, the county has added 8,400 non-agricultural jobs — a 3.6% increase. The transportation, warehousing and utilities sector led the way with 9.3% job growth.
KEY TREND: The county’s residential real estate market is expected to remain flat, but commercial construction is increasing the region’s inventory of available office space. … The county is also getting a boost from developer Syd Kitson, who recently donated $3 million and 67 acres — a gift worth $7.6 million — to Florida Gulf Coast University so the school can establish a Center for Environmental Research and Outreach. The research center will be at Babcock Ranch, an 18,000-acre site where Kitson plans to build a mixed-use development.
De Soto / Highlands / Hardee Counties
Fort Myers developer Cameratta Properties last year bought 5,860 acres just south of Arcadia in De Soto County where it plans to build a master-planned community called DeSoto Estates, with 15,000 residential units and 1.5 million square feet of commercial space by 2020. … Neighboring Highlands County is celebrating the expansion of Funder America, which makes laminated wood products with high-tech equipment. The company is building its third manufacturing facility in Sebring.
Glades / Hendry Counties
Upscale developers like the Bonita Bay Group are preparing to build mixed-use developments in LaBelle and other parts of Hendry County. Meanwhile, Florida Power & Light is preparing to build a coal-burning power plant in Glades County. And in July, the 440-bed Glades County Detention Center will open, housing federal and INS detainees along with local inmates.