Bonita Springs joining governments offering incentives to businesses

Algenol Biofuels in South Fort Myers.

Photo by DAVID ALBERS, Naples Daily News // Buy this photo

Algenol Biofuels in South Fort Myers.

— Southwest Florida strives to promote commerce, with Bonita Springs becoming the latest to get involved in proposing a program to attract new businesses.

From training to financial incentive programs, the Fort Myers Regional Partnership — Lee County's Economic Development Office offers an array of countywide and state programs to draw new businesses.

The economic development office works to attract companies that could locate to Lee County and create high-paying, high-value jobs in diverse industries, said Jennifer Berg, a spokeswoman for the office.

While attracting new business to the area is important, Berg said focusing on retaining and expanding existing industries is likewise important.

Lee County's incentive program helps level the playing field by offsetting the new companies' cost and risk, Berg said.

"It is something that needs to be done to be competitive when you are competing with other areas," she said.

Lee County government set aside $25 million in 2008 to create a negotiated, performance-based incentive for the future that's been used to attract businesses. To qualify, companies must operate within a target industry and create at least 75 jobs within a three-year period that pay an average wage exceeding the annual Lee average wage of $35,805 and must generate significant capital investment, according to the Fort Myers Regional Partnership website.

Since the incentive project started in 2008, Lee County has committed to use $18.3 million of the $25 million with six companies for a total of 1,316 new jobs targeted, Berg said. The estimated economic impact of the jobs is $646.7 million.

The Fort Myers Regional Partnership — Lee County's Economic Development Office is focused on increasing the number of company expansions, providing business information and referrals to local companies, and alerting companies about key business climate issues. Partnership officials also disseminate information and facilitate meetings with government agencies to provide assistance to local companies.

"The ultimate goal is to create the ideal environment for business expansion, competitiveness and prosperity. That, in turn, leads to job creation, capital investment and growth," Berg said.

Special to the Daily News/Jason Easterly
Bonita Chamber President and CEO Christine A. Ross delivers the welcoming announcements during the Bonita Springs Area Chamber of Commerce 2012 Annual Meeting & Awards Luncheon held at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa in September.

Photo by JASON EASTERLY // Buy this photo

Special to the Daily News/Jason Easterly Bonita Chamber President and CEO Christine A. Ross delivers the welcoming announcements during the Bonita Springs Area Chamber of Commerce 2012 Annual Meeting & Awards Luncheon held at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point Resort & Spa in September.

Bonita Springs continues to steadily attract new businesses.

"We are open for business," said Christine Ross, president and CEO of the Bonita Springs Area Chamber of Commerce and executive director of the Bonita Springs Estero Economic Development Council.

City leaders recently discussed adding 10 different business incentives that would complement what county government offers and would make the city more attractive to new businesses.

Among proposed business incentives, Bonita Springs would offer up to $1,500 to anyone who provides a substantial lead to the city that results in a new business with at least five jobs, according to a draft proposal.

Other incentives include the redevelopment and beautification of downtown, including a facade improvement matching grant in which the city would finance 80 percent of the project with a match of 20 percent by the owner, not to exceed $10,000. The program would require the owner to comply with an architectural and color scheme established for downtown, according to a draft report.

City Council has given staff direction to develop a process and procedure as well as draft applications, said Arleen Hunter, Bonita Springs' director of development services. Each program then will go back to City Council for final approval.

The Bonita council has approved the proposed economic development incentives in concept, but details need to be finalized. Each program will go back to City Council for final approval.

The city has $100,000 in the budget for economic development; about $75,000 of that could be available for incentives.

In addition, the city is making the permitting process easier and quicker by having businesses meet with staff members that they need to all at once.

Ross said there is a growth opportunity in both Estero and Bonita Springs.

Bonita Springs offers a waiver of impact fees on existing buildings, a program in effect until August 2014.


Naples Mayor John Sorey on NewsMakers 11-11-12.

Naples Mayor John Sorey on NewsMakers 11-11-12.

It's a different story in Naples.

In the midst of finding Collier County's new economic development director, Naples Mayor John Sorey said there isn't much being done to recruit new businesses here.

"Hopefully, that is going to change pretty soon," Sorey said.

Officials at the Marco Island Chamber of Commerce declined to comment, saying they wanted to wait until Collier's new economic development director is aboard.

Collier is in the midst of creating a county-run economic development office and the newly chosen director of business and economic development, Bruce Register, couldn't immediately be reached for comment. He is expected to start his new position in late January.

Since Sorey became Naples' mayor in April 2012, he said he has been talking to anybody who has any interest in opening a business in the city. Sorey said the city and Collier County leaders need to develop a more formal recruiting approach.

"We need to have a more proactive approach, where we are out there recruiting," Sorey said.

In addition, Sorey said, Naples' regulations should be business friendly, while protecting the ambiance of the city.

In the past year, more than 100 businesses have opened, including 25 restaurants, a Bascom Palmer Eye Institute expansion and the Inn on Fifth expansion, he said.Naplesnews.com For a list of Bonita Springs' proposed of economic development incentives.

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