Guest column: Dave Trecker ... Economic development, locked and loaded

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The pieces are starting to fit together.

The jigsaw puzzle that is economic development is starting to take shape.

After years of false starts, Collier County is getting its act together and mounting a real program, with roles assigned and milestones set.

According to John Cox, head of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, the centerpiece is a private-public partnership between the chamber and county government, with the following division of labor.

The chamber will focus on growing our existing businesses, recruiting new ones, U.S. and international marketing (France is on the radar) and interfacing with Enterprise Florida.

The county’s Office of Economic Development, headed by Bruce Register, will continue work on incentives (good progress has been made), regulatory reform and “incubators” to help create and grow startups.

To make this work, the chamber has established what it calls a Partnership for Collier’s Future Economy, complete with a board of directors and a steering committee.

The Board of County Commissioners signed onto the plan in December. That’s huge.

The first step, now under way, is an eight-month study of growth parameters and possible business targets — health care, agriculture, biotech, community nonprofits, construction, hospitality/tourism, the arts and education.

The steering committee — made up of business types, academics and a liberal sprinkling of civic leaders — will provide guidance throughout the eight-month process.

What’s the endpoint? According to Cox, the endpoint of the study will be a three-year road map for growth that includes a vision, metric targets, a timetable and success criteria. In other words, the things you would expect in a business plan.

That’s all fine and good for Collier County. But what about regionalism? What about the tie-in to Lee County?

Cox says first things first. He points out, “We can’t be a strong regional player until we’re strong at home first.”

Anyway, regionalism isn’t being ignored. The County Commission recently endorsed the Southwest Florida Economic Development Alliance, and the Chamber is working with the Alliance to bring in new investment.

No one expects any of this to be easy. The county is competing with other areas in Florida and other states for essentially the same things. Everybody wants more clean industry, more high-tech businesses, more tourism, more clout in the service area.

The competition will be fierce. Cox says, “We’re in a hurry-up offense. We can’t wait.”

So things are under way. Something is actually happening. The right bases are being touched. The major players — in government, in business, in the community — are on board. Everyone seems to be pulling in the same direction.

At last.

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