By Dave Trecker
That’s the new byword for growth.
Fitting economic development into arbitrary boundaries — like a specific county — doesn’t always work. On the other hand, drawing on the assets of an entire region like Southwest Florida often makes good sense.
Regionalism works for North America. The United States, Canada and Mexico together accounting for one-fourth of the world’s gross domestic product are each other’s main trading partners. Growth in one country benefits the others. Expanded farming in Mexico boosts food processing in the U.S.
Crude oil produced in Canada and refined here creates jobs in both countries.
It applies locally. Attracting Hertz to Lee County is already benefiting Collier County. Naples real estate, restaurants and retailers will profit for years to come. After all, we’re just a short drive from Estero.
The value of regionalism was not lost on the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce. Under outgoing president Mike Reagen, the chamber teamed with Lee County’s Horizon Council and Florida Gulf Coast University to form the Regional Economic Development Initiative (REDI). The purpose was and is to promote regional growth in Southwest Florida.
With regionalism you forget about jurisdictions and scorekeeping. When Arthrex expands here, Lee County also wins. When Algenol expands in Fort Myers, job opportunities are created for scientists in Naples.
County officials may be coming around. The Board of Collier County Commissioners recently proposed a public-private partnership with the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce. And Dudley Goodlette, the new chairman of the Chamber board, is a major player in REDI and a believer in regional collaboration.
Commissioner Georgia Hiller is suggesting a moratorium on commercial impact fees in Collier. That would dovetail with a similar moratorium in Lee County and advance a regional approach.
Here’s another thought, maybe an uncomfortable one. Many in the Naples area don’t want major growth at least not close by. Prosperity, yes. Good schools, the arts, top restaurants, recreational activities.
But commercial growth? Only in small doses. People say, “I don’t want to become another Fort Lauderdale.” Our tax base is big enough.
For those people and others, a regional approach to economic development makes sense. Our assets complement those of Lee County. Our combined strengths make Southwest Florida an attractive business location.
How Bruce Register, the county’s new economic development director, would fit in remains to be seen. Whether John Cox, the incoming president of the chamber, buys into regional development is also uncertain.
But there is momentum, and heavy hitters on both sides of the county line want it to happen. The Hertz success is a powerful precedent.
So get ready for regionalism. It’s bound to be a part perhaps the central part of any economic development plan for Collier County. And it should be. It’s a win-win proposition.