Collier, Lee business leaders sign agreement to create regional alliance

Michael Wynn, chairman of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce on NewsMakers 2-12-12.

Michael Wynn, chairman of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce on NewsMakers 2-12-12.

— For years, there's been a call for a regional effort to attract businesses to Southwest Florida.

A new alliance aims to answer that call.

On Friday, The Partnership for Collier's Future Economy, an arm of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, signed what it described as a historic agreement with Florida Gulf Coast University in Estero and the Horizon Council, a public-private partnership that advises Lee County commissioners on economic development.

The partners will share information and resources. They also will work together to gather the information sought by professionals who help businesses relocate and expand.

The new alliance, with three representatives from each of the partners, will explore ways to create an effective regional economic development organization and develop ways to pay for its operations.

"This is the nucleus and foundation for this future regional organization," said Michael Wynn, chairman of the Greater Naples Chamber and a co-chairman of The Partnership for Collier's Future Economy.

There are hopes of adding Charlotte, Glades and Hendry counties as partners, but there's still plenty that can be done without their involvement to move the regional effort along, Wynn said.

Most — if not all — regions in the state have regional organizations to promote their broader economic opportunities, he said.

For example, when Florida's governor has mission trips to other countries, those organizations send a regional representative, but Southwest Florida hasn't been able to do that, Wynn said.

"There has been a lot of people that have been pushing for something like this to happen over the years," he said. "It's just that the timing is right."

In January, private businesses and organizations formed The Partnership for Collier's Future Economy, focused on helping existing businesses grow. The Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce spearheaded the effort after Collier County's Economic Development Council closed its doors about a year ago amid criticism that it wasn't effective in its mission to diversify the local economy and create high-wage jobs.

Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce President
Mike Reagen

Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce President Mike Reagen

The ultimate goal with the alliance is to "partner with FGCU to craft in the next three years regional business attraction," said Michael Reagen, president and CEO of the Greater Naples Chamber, in a statement.

Before Collier's Economic Development Council folded, it hired a private consultant, Jim McGraw, president and CEO of KMK Consulting in Ohio, to come up with a new strategic plan for creating jobs in the county. One of the 10 goals outlined in that plan was to create a multi-county 501(c)6 economic development partnership for Southwest Florida, with participation from all counties.

The regional alliance is sure to help efforts to grow jobs in Collier County, but its formation wasn't prompted by KMK's report, Wynn said.

"This really represents the culmination or the beginning of the culmination of many other people's efforts over the past decade," he said.

Early on, businesses that are considering locating in Southwest Florida will be directed to the university as a source for regional information.

The university's involvement will give the alliance credibility and expertise, enabling the new group to better serve the community, said Ed Morton, a co-chairman of The Partnership for Collier's Future Economy.

One of the alliance's first steps will be to closely examine the state of the economy in Southwest Florida, he said.

Once there's a better understanding of the economy, the alliance's next steps will become clearer.

"It's better to determine where one is before one starts to go out in search of solutions," Morton said. "We must first define the challenge."

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

© 2012 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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