Cape Coral pushes to lure business
High-skill, high-salary jobs are goals of city
September 28, 2007
Don’t let the economic downturn fool you: New businesses are moving into Cape Coral at an average of about 30 each month.
That’s according to city economic development director Mike Jackson, who said more than 65 percent of the now 8,584 businesses in the city are home-based operations. The three highest categories of industry in the Cape are administration and support, then construction, then professional.
The goal through the next year, he said, is going to be continuing that surge and simultaneously attracting more of the high-skill, high-salary kind of commercialism that means long-term economic strength.
“We’re looking for relatively smart workers and relatively advanced technology sectors,” Jackson said. “We have companies like that here today, and we’re trying to figure out the best way to help them grow and attract more like them.”
He wouldn’t be specific on exact corporations the city wants to hook, but he said his office will be transforming in the next few years into somewhat of a sales operation.
“It is our goal to be able to focus exclusively on identifying the gazelles,” he said. “Those are the fast-growing companies with high wages. We want to look for those in Cape Coral, and we want to identify and target those on the outside. That means literally calling them up, getting them to take a tour of the city, meeting our developers and showing them what a high quality of life we have here that is attractive to workers.
“We’ve been doing extensive advertising in the central U.S. edition of the Wall Street Journal and Crain’s business publications. These are advertising campaigns that allow us to increase people’s awareness of Cape Coral as a large city in Southwest Florida that is not just a retirement community.”
And the city is hoping the results of recent studies will help drive business the city’s way. Two studies — a workforce study and a target industry study — are set to be released in the next month. They will identify, Jackson said, what sort of business clusters would be a good fit for the kind of labor force and businesses already in the city.
About 48 percent of the city’s population works full time, and the median age has dropped since the last census from 45.2 to 43. From 2004 to 2006, the median household income rose from $46,933 to $54,026.
Mayor Eric Feichthaler said he wants to develop the city as a cultural center before going after the big businesses.
“High technology businesses are looking for more of an educational base,” Feichthaler said. “It means we need to provide them with what other cities have, and we simply do not have those cultural amenities right now. We have the land, but we need to mature as a city before we start seeing those results.”
But he does want to focus more on attracting office professional and light manufacturing-type operations, while moving away from the construction and real estate industries. Landing one large corporation, he said, could spur others to follow. He doubted whether the studies were going to be helpful.
“What I said to the economic director is I expect to see substantial and immediate results,” Feichthaler said. “For the money we’re putting into surveys and studies, I’ve not seen the benefits citywide. If they lead us to attracting those businesses, I’ll be happy about that, but I’m not sure it will bring the benefits of that promise.”
The studies are costing the city about $205,000. Jackson said they won’t be a “magic bullet,” but, at worst, they will be a “compass.”
One thing he thinks the studies will show is that building office space before big businesses arrive would be a smart move.
“I don’t like to say, ‘If you build it, they will come,’ ” he said. “But if you don’t build it, they won’t come.”
Large corporations don’t rush to relocate when office space isn’t already available, he said. Site selection can take years, and most want to be able to move in right away, either buying or leasing buildings that already exist.
In the second quarter of 2007, real estate firm Cushman & Wakeman determined Cape Coral had 263,684 square feet of vacant office space, 100,840 square feet of industrial space and 72,110 square feet of vacant medical space. Office space vacancy really did not exist in the city less than two years ago.
Anita Simmons, who owns the Cape Dog Bakery downtown, said that while she doesn’t think the city needs more “big box stores,” bringing in more professionals is probably a good thing.
“There are some businesses suffering, and it’s because we’ve relied so heavily on real estate,” Simmons said. “We need things that will draw big companies to this area — clean up the landscape and have more unique shops and restaurants that will make this a destination.”
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