ESTERO — The timing couldn’t have been any better for the organizers of a regional economic development symposium in Estero.
It came within days of Hertz’s big news that the rental car company will relocate its world headquarters and hundreds of jobs to Lee County.
It was a two-county effort to attract the rental car giant — and Collier County business and government leaders turned out in force to the event Thursday, surprising organizers with their keyed-up interest.
“To me it was a happening, it was a political happening,” said Mike Reagen, president and CEO of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, one of the event sponsors. “And by political I mean it’s how people work together.”
Other sponsors included the Horizon Council, FGCU, Florida Power & Light and Enterprise Florida, the state’s economic development arm.
During the symposium, Dudley Goodlette, chairman-elect for the Naples chamber, highlighted the importance of a regional economic development effort in Southwest Florida, saying he sees the Hertz deal as a springboard for a more cooperative approach in attracting new businesses.
“Let me tell you, we have matured as a region,” he said, pointing out how the international airport and local universities have grown and how transportation has improved with the expansion of local roads and Interstate 75.
Hertz’s move to the region will give Southwest Florida an opportunity to showcase how it can welcome a Fortune 500 company and integrate its employees into the community, said Goodlette, a former state representative.
At the symposium — planned well ahead of Hertz’s relocation announcement — outside experts talked about how to play to win in economic development. Among the speakers was Del Boyette, a principal in Boyette Strategic Advisors in Arkansas, with more than 20 years of experience in economic development strategy, incentives negotiation/policy and location analysis.
He said that, together, Lee and Collier have the “magic” numbers to attract more major corporations like Hertz. Those numbers are 1 million for population and a half a million for workforce.
“Being able to find the talent is critical,” Boyette said.
In an interview after the symposium, he said with a retailer like Chico’s FAS Inc. already headquartered in Fort Myers, and Hertz moving this way it will send the right kind of message to other companies looking to expand or relocate in the U.S. Both Hertz and Chico’s, he pointed out, are well-known for their high level of customer service around the world.
Other speakers included Lynn Pitts, FPL's director of economic development. He discussed his company’s recent launch of PoweringFlorida.com — a new resource meant to help grow the state’s economy. The site is designed to be a one-stop shop for site selectors — offering a variety of data from wage rates to spending patterns — and a tool for local economic development organizations, with tailored data about their communities.
Collier’s new economic development director, Bruce Register, has used the site already in working with different prospects, Pitts said.
FPL had a part in helping to attract Hertz to Estero, offering it discounted electric rates that are expected to save the company $125,000 in its first four years of operation here, he said.
Mei-Mei Chan, president and publisher of the News-Press and chairwoman of a regional initiative task force for the Horizon Council, which advises Lee County commissioners on economic development, sent out a call to action, urging continued and expanded cooperation between the five counties in the region.
“The sum is greater than the parts,” she said.
She encouraged leaders to get more involved.
For years, there’s been a call for a regional effort to attract businesses, but it always seemed to falter.
In September, 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 FGCU and the Horizon Council, forming an alliance to share information and resources and to develop an effective regional economic development organization. Progress is being made with private money.
By June, the alliance expects to launch its own website that will be a resource for regional information. The data on the website will be managed by students and professors at FGCU.
One of the next steps for the regional effort will be to put some “meat on the bones,” and to build financial support and a marketing plan, said Jim Moore, Lee’s economic development director, after the symposium.
“There has been a lot of work done on the $40,000 raised,” he said. “But you can’t just have a website. You have to have a regional organization that is promoting and marketing the region to companies.”