Business owners, eager citizens and entrepreneurs put their experiences and knowledge to good use Monday night.
More than 60 people gathered for the 5:30 p.m. workshop at North Collier Regional Park to discuss how to secure the economic future of Collier County.
They all had one thing in common: concern.
“It seems to me that everybody is looking for anything that can create high-wage paying jobs in target industries,” said Bob Mulhere, chairman of Economic Development Council of Collier County.
The workshop was the final of three. The goal was to gather public input on economic advancement for the new community economic development strategic plan, which will be presented to the County Commission in September.
“It is a process that we agree to do because there appeared to be different opinions as to what we should be doing to promote economic development,” Mulhere said.
Participants sat in groups and formulated opinions about the crucial issues facing Collier County. Some of the principle concerns discussed were bringing the right industries with the right pay to Collier, instilling trust in the local government and creating an incentive program for business owners.
“The notion of a business friendly environment is very important to business. Whether they are here to grow, here to start up, or are outside of this community thinking to come here,” said Jim McGraw, president of KMK Consulting. McGraw is a temporary resident of Naples and consultant for the strategic plan.
The plan will identify development and diversity for both the private and public sector.
Traditionally Collier County has relied on three industries – construction and development, tourism and agriculture, Mulhere said.
“They are the principle economic drivers in Collier County,” Mulhere said. “They are not reliable industries, but they are certainty very important industries.”
Citrus canker, weather conditions and economic cycles greatly influence their success.
For Naples resident Ruth Pollock this is the biggest problem facing the area. Pollock believes that the county needs less dependence on tourism, a seasonal industry.
The key is to do so without ruining what is already beautiful here, she said.
“It creates an unhealthy, parasitical environment,” Pollock said.
While most agreed there are problems that need to be addressed, some have no faith in the officials elected to do so.
“There is a culture of corruption and it has been in Collier County for years,” said Peter Gaddy, 66, of Golden Gate Estates. “We need to stop having workshops and make some changes.”
McGraw recognized that not everyone will agree, but stressed the importance of moving on quickly with one goal in mind – the advancement of Collier County.
“We have to agree about what we want success to look like for Collier County,” he said. “Not only now but five years from now.”
Moving forward is what will ensure that Collier County becomes a destination for new business owners. McGraw said that not one person has said to him this is a good area to begin a business. As a site selector, he wouldn’t recommend it.
That notion is what the strategic plan is supposed to change, and the sooner the better, McGraw said.
“We have agreed we are in a competitive mode,” he said. “The more we can try to be forceful for ourselves in terms of moving the ball forward the better.”
McGraw hopes to have the strategic plan running and accountable by Jan. 1. Community members are encouraged to form suggestions and ideas and can do so at www.colliereconomicplan.org.
“Nothing is ever really static. Nothing that works, works forever,” McGraw said. “If we pursue this effort for Southwest Florida, will it bring us in sync with the rest of Florida? Yes.”