Breakfast starts new day for Project Innovation

Collier County project stays focused on improving local economy

Project Innovation

Project Innovation Thoughts on progress of a ...

It’s not the end, but a new beginning for Project Innovation.

That was the message from the project’s key leaders at a breakfast Tuesday held at the Naples Hilton.

“We’re not getting our PhDs today or even our high school diplomas,” said Bill O’Neill, chairman of Collier County’s Economic Development Council, which spearheaded the project to improve the local economy last year.

At this point in the project, it’s more like graduating from kindergarten, he said.

“We’ve learned our ABCs,” O’Neill said.

Those ABCs are advocacy, benchmarking and connectivity. Six driver teams have been created, made up of volunteers from nonprofit and for profit organizations that support the project. They will work to move the project into action. Action projects for producing success, or APPS, have been identified in the areas that are in focus for improvement: quality of place, talent, business climate, innovation, infrastructure and governance.

“If you have a goal, we have an APP for that,” O’Neill quipped.

About 130 business and community leaders attended the event.

For now, the action projects are existing ones that will be worked into the goals of Project Innovation. Those action projects include the Bayshore redevelopment master plan, the Children’s Museum of Naples, the Gordon River Greenway, Heritage Trail, Immokalee Regional Airport Master Plan, STEM Council, Tamiami Angel Fund and a regional branding campaign, which was recently launched under the slogan “A brighter place to do business.”

A data team, led by Florida Gulf Coast University’s Regional Economic Research Institute, will provide support to help determine measurable goals and provide data-based results for each area of focus.

A next step will be identifying new projects.

“Projects can come on at any time,” explained Tammie Nemecek, the Economic Development Council’s president and CEO. “We have a procedure for that.”

The economy continues to be a top concern for residents based on local surveys, said state Rep. Tom Grady, R-Naples, who is a co-chairman of Project Innovation.

He asked for a raise of hands from people who believed the economy had turned. Only about five hands went up. "That's scary," he said.

Florida, he said, has a lot going for it, including low taxes. He said now is the time to embrace "climate change," meaning finding ways to improve the business climate.

"It's going to get better," he said.

Chris Doyle, publisher of the Naples News Media Group and a co-chairman of Project Innovation, attended the meeting via Skype from Texas, where he was traveling to do "his other job." His face appeared on a projection screen and he used the opportunity to show that business can be done from anywhere using the latest technology. That could open new doors for Collier County.

Doyle tipped his hat to a local entrepreneur, Shayne Faerber, 29, who recently launched "Mall Maps — You Are Here," a mobile application for iPhones that provides a comprehensive database of malls, shopping centers and plazas nationwide.

Faerber was invited to event. He was asked to stand and be recognized.

"Hail, entrepreneur," Doyle said.

With Project Innovation, he hopes to help more local entrepreneurs like Faerber succeed.

Project Innovation volunteers spent hundreds of hours over the summer developing a consensus on the projects that should fall under each focus area.

Tuesday's event included a panel discussion with Project Innovation volunteers moderated by Jeff Lytle, the editorial page editor for the Naples Daily News. They were asked why they decided to participate in the project and to talk about how decisions were made about the selected projects.

Brad Cornell, a policy advocate with Audubon of Florida and Collier County Audubon, said there can't be a sustainable environment in Southwest Florida without a sustainable human community. He talked about the importance of road and electronic connectivity, making transportation and communication easier for businesses in the future.

"We don't want this to be a quick flame and we're out," he said of the project.

Joe Cox, executive director of the Children's Museum of Naples, talked about the important role his soon-to-open attraction could play in Project Innovation. Science, engineering and math have been incorporated in the exhibits.

"Children's museums are not just hands-on learning experiences," he said. "They are a place to see fine art. They are a place to have global experiences."

The audience had some challenging questions. Chris Straton, representing the League of Women Voters in Collier County, said she didn't see a lot of diversity in the room and wondered how more diversity could be incorporated in the project. "There's a lot of gray hair," she said looking around the room.

Panelists suggested that getting more diverse groups involved may be a project to take up. "The best way to increase diversity is to give people jobs," O'Neill said.

Kathy Guyitt, a residential contractor and remodeler based in Bonita Springs, said one of the saddest sides of her business is that so much is thrown away — from sinks and toilets to cabinets and windows. She'd like to see a program developed to encourage reuse and recycling of those building materials.

"This is very difficult to do," she said.

Panelists liked her suggestion. Project Innovation may be a facilitator to make that happen, Cornell said.

Brian Goguen, a vice president for Barron Collier Cos. and a supporter of Project Innovation, described the program as great.

"The interesting thing is when people raise specific ideas — like the person that wanted to talk about new ways to recycle — that’s what Project Innovation is all about, a culture that encourages and supports the development of businesses around innovative thinking," he said.

Guyitt recently joined the EDC.

"I'm definitely impressed," she said after the presentation. "And I'm definitely going to get involved. I think they are on the right track."

She said survival is about innovation.

"The construction industry isn't dead here," she said. "It just has to adapt."

Connect with Laura Layden at www.naplesnews.com/staff/laura_layden.

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■ CLICK HERE to watch Project Innovation recap video

■ CLICK HERE to watch the Collier County EDC music video

© 2009 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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