Here are the top 5 business stories of 2012 in Southwest Florida:
The economic recovery got under way in Southwest Florida in 2012.
Retail sales were up. Tourism was up. Construction was up. Real estate sales were up. As a result, unemployment was down.
By May, business operators and analysts were telling the Daily News that they saw the rebound beginning. Monthly sales reports from the Naples Area Board of Realtors became increasingly upbeat. The year ended with double-digit increases in sales and inventory significantly declining, showing the real estate recovery had begun in Collier County.
In Collier, bed taxes charged on hotel stays and other vacation rentals hit a record high in fiscal 2011-12, totaling about $14.9 million. Lee also saw an increase in tourism.In late 2012, passenger travel numbers began tracking up again at Southwest Florida International Airport.
As tourism rebounded, seasonal employment rose. With it, the unemployment rate got better in Collier and Lee counties. A December report showed Lee and Collier counties added nearly 8,000 jobs from November to December. Collier's unemployment rate dropped to 7.8 percent in November, down from 9.6 percent a year ago. Lee's unemployment rate fell to 8.3 percent in November, down from 10.5 percent a year ago.
Planned residential developments are back in Southwest Florida.
The Canadian-based Minto Communities LLC is investing millions in the local market.
Those investments include a new 220-home community in Bonita Springs off Old 41 Road, and plans to buy Sabal Bay, a 2,300-acre residential project a few miles from downtown Naples.
In North Naples, plans call for a 1,800-acre resort-style gated community.
Taylor Morrison in October announced the new community, located on Immokalee Road three miles east of Interstate 75. The project — formerly known as Mirasol — will be on the northwest corner of Immokalee Road and Collier Boulevard.
Real estate picks up
Sagging real estate sales in recent years reversed in 2012, and foreign buyers played a role in that trend.
Home buyers from Canada, Brazil, Russia and other countries see Southwest Florida as a permanent residential destination — whether they're planning to live or invest here.
In the U.S., about 24 percent of foreign buyers are now Canadians — making them the largest share. And from July 2011 to June 2012, foreigners accounted for 19 percent of the home sales volume in Florida, led by Canadians, according to an industry report by Florida Realtors, a statewide trade group.
"We just like Naples," Looey Tremblay, a Canadian, said earlier this year. "It's quiet. It's safe. It's classy. It's a little too quiet for our liking, but you know you can make your own fun."
Jerry Williams sentenced
Former bank CEO Jerry Williams traded in his tailored suits for prison garb in 2012.
In June, a judge sentenced him to six years after he pleaded guilty to making fraudulent loans to trick regulators by trying to make Orion Bank appear in better financial shape than it was. IberiaBank later took over Orion.
Williams is serving at a minimum security prison camp in Montgomery, Ala. Orion shareholders lost millions of dollars because of the actions of Williams and his co-conspirators.
In August, a judge ordered Williams to pay more than $31 million to the Federal Deposit Insurance Corp. for his leading role in the bank fraud conspiracy.