In the Know: Collier firms moving headquarters to Lee County, closer to where employees live
EHC Inc. is the latest Collier County firm to make plans to either move headquarters or at least create a large hub in Lee County, closer to where many of its employees live.
The site construction company, which provides services such as earthwork and infrastructure, made the announcement for a new home this past week, a conclusion that didn't come easy, said Jeff Hunt, EHC's president and owner.
“The decision was not taken lightly," Hunt said. "Since 2016, we’ve been searching for the right location and the right opportunity for our team and clients.”
EHC chose more than six acres in a relatively undeveloped Fort Myers spot — at Canal and Van Buren streets — not to be confused with the same named, much more famous intersection in downtown Chicago that features massive high-rises near Union Station.
The campus will include the EHC corporate office, maintenance and repair facilities, equipment storage yard, water management facilities and additional property to triple the size of the operation when needed.
“After 29 years in business and 26 years in the current facility, we decided it was time to centralize and expand,” Hunt said. "The new location provides better accessibility for the EHC team, the job sites and our clients."
Other Collier County and Southwest Florida company leaders are finding fertile unused land in Lee County to create headquarters or a new hub to keep growing their businesses, said Randy Thibaut, president of Fort Myers-based LSI Companies.
Several are in the process of landing in or have completed moves to another emerging area, the Alico Road corridor area, as company leaders find themselves site-constrained at their current locations, Thibaut said.
Another driving factor: Sometimes they're too far away from where employees live and from where a lot of new growth is occurring in more northern parts of Southwest Florida as Naples to the south hits up against the generally protected Everglades.
James French, deputy department head of Collier County Growth Management, knows the challenge for employees and employers. The cost of living is a problem.
There are a lot of jobs, but not a lot of qualified people who can live where the jobs are because the companies cannot pay what is needed to live comfortably in the area, French said.
Among the Collier companies on the move to Lee or expanding there:
Best Home Services
► Based in North Naples, booming Best Home Services is setting up a new 65,000-square-foot home next door to the new global headquarters for Fort Myers-based cancer laboratory NeoGenomics at Three Oaks Parkway and Interstate 75, both projects recently announced and in the works.
Alpine, a California-based private equity firm, has agreed to invest more than $100 million to help Best Home expand, primarily through the purchase of similar companies.
Best Home, a current neighbor of EHC, will eventually be moving out of corporate offices on Rail Head Boulevard off Old 41 Road in Naples that total roughly 20,000 square feet.
My Shower Door
► Founded in Naples in 2003, My Shower Door is establishing its North American headquarters and the D3 Glass Manufacturing plant off Alico Road in Lee County.
In addition to housing corporate offices, training facilities and distribution, the 7.5-acre campus features manufacturing, tempering and laminating of glass. The property includes a 60,000-square-foot multi-purpose building with the option to expand another 10,000 square feet.
As it turns out, EHC provided pre-construction, erosion control, clearing, pond excavation, import fill, earthwork, subgrade base, and asphalt paving as well as site concrete including sidewalks and curbing for the My Shower project.
► While not designating it as a headquarters, Naples-based Conditioned Air is expanding into a new 52,710-square-foot operations center in Lee County.
The new building — at Jetport Loop and Global Parkway in the Southwest International Commerce Park — will include roughly 10,800 square feet of office space and a little more than 31,000 square feet of warehouse, with a nearly 11,000-square-foot mezzanine planned for storage and future expansion.
In case you missed it:Naples-based Conditioned Air to build new operations hub
The building will serve as the central hub for the company's growth in Lee and Charlotte counties, while providing support to headquarters on Mercantile Avenue in Naples and smaller operations in Sarasota County.
Even with the moves, Conditioned Air, like all the firms increasing their focus on Lee, have reiterated their commitment to Collier customers.
"We love Collier County," Theo Etzel, the company's chairman, said to reporter Laura Layden recently. "We will be there forever. Most of our work comes from Collier."
Erase the county lines: We are regional
The latter point is key to Justin Thibaut, LSI's chief operating officer, when it comes to the companies shifting headquarters, partly because "in Lee and Charlotte, land is generally cheaper."
"They're all doing a lot of business in Collier," he said, while conceding "it's not ideal" for that county, which is taking a minor hit on its tax base.
Still, he notes the county continues to have significant growth, illustrated by medical device manufacturer Arthrex's more than $100 million investment to expand its corporate campus at U.S. 41 and Immokalee Road. Arthrex has said that translates to 500-plus jobs.
While late to the party, Collier also took a meaningful step last year with its affordable housing ordinance, and Justin Thibaut predicts a return on that to emerge in 12 to 18 months.
When it's all said and done, areas like the Alico Road corridor becoming an "epicenter for headquarters" is good for the entire region, not just Lee County, he said.
It's a "great indicator" of a vibrant Southwest Florida economy that benefits everyone, he said.
"The county line is an invisible line," he said. "These all have regional impacts."
For EHC, like the other companies, centralization of the headquarters in Southwest Florida was essential to its growing market, Hunt said.
EHC began to pursue a campus as the company was outgrowing the existing facility at the Rail Head location, particularly the maintenance and repair facilities, he said. In addition, the site construction company needed to better accommodate in-house training and meeting facilities for human resources and other staff events.
With room for expansion, the main headquarters building will have 8,000 square feet of office space and 6,000 square feet for a repair shop. The new campus is nearly six times the size of the current campus with close to twice the office space and five times the size of the shop.
Built of pre-engineered and fabricated metal with concrete floors and walls, the building will feature executive and staff offices, multiple conference rooms, employee training facilitates, six heavy equipment repair bays, and the shop office. The corporate office component is two floors, while the maintenance shop is single level allowing any EHC equipment to be repaired inside the building.
EHC, of course, will be providing all the site work on its project including clearing, fill, utilities, pavement, curbs, sidewalks, fencing, storage yard, landscape and irrigation.
The company hopes to be operating from the new Fort Myers headquarters in March 2020. EHC declined to state exact cost figures for the project, except to say it will be a multi-million dollar investment.
The company reported more than 40% volume growth in 2018 with the market continuing to experience development in multi-family residential, infrastructure and commercial.
EHC is involved in other high-profile projects in the region including the new downtown riverfront Fort Myers hotel adjacent to the Harborside Convention Center.
Q&A with EHC President and Owner Jeff Hunt
Q: What is the time frame for the move?
A: EHC hopes to be operating from the new Fort Myers headquarters in March 2020.
Q: How difficult is it to move the headquarters out of Collier?
A: Naples is where EHC was born 29½ years ago. We continue to have strong ties to long-term clients all over Collier County, so it is somewhat sad to be moving. However, three of EHC’s principals are natives of Lee and Charlotte counties, and all four graduated high school here. In many ways, this move is also a homecoming.
Q: What could Collier have done, if anything, to keep you?
A: The simple answer would be to have more industrial property. Nevertheless, land costs would likely have been prohibitive even if there were industrial properties available that fit our needs, which demands more open storage for our equipment and vehicles. Most industrial properties are primarily focused these days on flex space buildings with little or no outdoor storage other than parking for employees and clients. We need all of that, just more land and less building. That is why we are building the new headquarters to suit our specific needs.
Q: I’ve been told by Randy Thibaut, president of LSI Companies, and others how area companies are doing well, expanding and looking for more affordable locations as they grow. What role did that play?
A: Affordability and more particularly, availability of sufficiently sized and zoned properties for our needs played a significant role.
Q: How many employees does EHC have, and what percentage of them live near the new location as compared to the previous location?
A: EHC has a staff size right around 100 employees, most of whom reside north of the current office. The new location will be far more convenient to the vast majority of our employees and provide more convenient access to our continuing education programs for our employees.
Q: Another aspect out there is that much of the new growth is now going further north instead of south since Naples is hitting up against the Everglades. What role did that play?
A: EHC’s projects have followed that trend. However, we still have active projects in downtown Naples and southern Collier County. Also, our clientele is more broadly based than in the past.
Q: Clearly you see great opportunity in the move to the new area. What hope and outlook do you have for that area transforming as potentially other firms follow your lead?
A: We sincerely hope and believe the economic outlook for all of Southwest Florida remains bright. Fort Myers and Lee County seem to have reached a critical mass of sorts that has many businesses looking at relocating. With plenty of available, reasonably priced housing for a varied workforce, we see that continuing. EHC is excited about the future and looks forward to participating in the continued expansion and improvement to the local infrastructure to support that growth.
Five Below in Collier . . . but not the weather
Time to chill, Collier. Five Below has arrived.
As we first reported on naplesnews.com this past week, Five Below surfaced at the 280,632-square-foot Carillon Place at Pine Ridge and Airport Pulling roads on Friday.
The company has 833 stories including Estero, Fort Myers and Cape Coral, and now it's Naples' turn. Another one is planned for Fort Myers in the Gulf Coast Town Center, but there's no specific set date yet.
In case you missed it:Five Below, new Fifth Ave. restaurant and a company moving headquarters out of Naples
Since everything is $5 or less, the store could be considered a step up from a Dollar Tree, where all you need is a buck. The Washington Post, a few months ago, described the shopping experience at one of the nation's most successful retailers as being sucked into an arcade game and finding "a wonderland of things no one needs."
Those Lincolns add up, with more than $1.5 billion in annual sales.
Andrea Vickers of Naples, one of 130 readers to love, like or comment on our web update on the Daily News Facebook page, plans to do her part.
"It's definitely my favorite place to go to when I need extra Christmas/birthday gifts for people, especially kiddos," Vickers said. "I've gotten brand new $30 books from there for under $5."
Others are not so excited.
"Wow, can’t wait for all this cheap plastic to end up in our water ways," said Alyssa LeClair. Added Michelle Mayer of Naples, "More stuff you don't need." And then there's Chad Haidet of Naples: "Sort of like a garage sale, but all garbage."
Here's a sampling of five of its newest products, with availability varying depending on the store.
How about a $5 explosive volcano experiments science book and kit? Or maybe not.
Candy? There's $2 Dr. Pepper Cotton Candy and $1.25 Halloween Hubba Bubba bubble tape.
More Halloween? Did your doggy say he needs $3 Halloween leg warmers? Well, he didn't, but you're going to put them on him anyway.
And finally, options galore for us Miami Dolphins fans who tossed out all our memorabilia after one of the worst losses in NFL history last weekend and are seeking to root for a team that won't be losing by 50 points on a regular basis.
For example, there's the $5 New England Patriots relaxation pillow. Yes, perfect. Something to cry on.
Reader question: Cafe Lurcat and Bar building
Jeff Lopez of Naples had this inquiry: "Why haven't any new restaurants moved into the Cafe Lurcat and Bar building?"
Well, good news. As we reported online this past week, Cameron Mitchell Restaurants plans to open Del Mar Naples at the 494 Fifth Avenue S. location in Naples. It's leasing the two-story building, which includes more than 9,000 square feet and two terraces overlooking Fifth.
But you'll have to wait awhile. Operatives for the restaurant said they expect it to open in the fall of 2020.
With a menu similar to its sister restaurant in the Short North Arts District in Columbus, Ohio, where it serves some of you Buckeyes, Del Mar Naples plans to offer more seafood options. Makes sense, considering it's about 650 yards from the Gulf of Mexico, equal to Ohio State's offense on just about any given football weekend.
Cameron Mitchell Restaurants also owns and operates Ocean Prime, which opened in December 2016, and is located adjacent to the Inn on Fifth, 699 5th Ave.
More on Fifth Avenue: It looks like Sanibel's Neil Peck had a tough time finding Naples.
Dude, it's like a right out of the island and then another right onto U.S. 41 if you're not taking the direct route by yacht.
Instead, Sanibel Sunglass Company owner and founder Peck meandered through Pensacola, Oregon and 14 other spots around the nation before he finally pulled up at 785 Fifth Ave. S., the site of his 17th location that just opened.
Well, you're No. 1 in Bruce Barone Jr.'s heart, and the executive director of the Fifth Avenue South Business Improvement District understands.
"Careful determination of a new site is critical for retail and consumer service businesses," Barone said. "Fifth Avenue South offers all the trends, traffic patterns and demographics ideally suited to a well established and sophisticated brand like Sanibel Sunglass Company.”
Store hours are daily 10 a.m. until 9 p.m.
What they're saying about July housing sales
Jeff Jones, Naples Area Board of Realtors president and broker at Keller Williams Naples: “Twenty-six percent of the homes on the market during July had price reductions. The No. 1 reason a home lingers on the market is that it is priced too high. Those price reductions seemed to bring more buyers into the market.”
Mike Hughes, vice president and general manager for Downing-Frye Realty Inc.: “The late summer and early fall are a good time for a seller to list a home because there is a lot of interest from eager buyers – 17 showings per listing in July compared to 13 in January – and values are not decreasing."
Coco Amar, a managing broker at John R. Wood Properties: “In the $1 million to $2 million price category for condominiums, there was a 10 percent decrease in the median closed price during July. This decrease in median price might have been precipitated by soft sales for condos in this price category as its sales decreased the most during July (-17%) compared to all other price and home type categories as compared to July 2018.”
► The drive is about to get shorter this week for Joann Fabric & Craft fans trapped between Naples and Fort Myers, as first reported on naplesnews.com.
Joann Fabric & Craft is scheduled to open at 9 a.m. Friday Sept. 20 in Coconut Point in Estero next to Party City on Mediterranean Drive, just slightly behind schedule. The fabric and craft company will move into a spot previously occupied by a World Market store, which closed in 2017.
The chain operates more than 865 stores in 49 states, according to the company’s website, including three in Fort Myers and one in Naples. The company was founded in Cleveland in 1943.
► Beautiful Health, a Naples natural beauty health boutique at 4947 Tamiami Trail N., Suite 105, has opened and provided tours of its showroom and classroom, among other festivities, Thursday night.
Founder Caroline Thonon says she has 15 years experience in wellness and beauty. Her interest in the industry grew after suffering harmful effects from a skincare chemical. Her mission: "Educate others on the importance of pure and clean product."
Besides organic and other types of products, Beautiful Health will conduct health classes and workshops. For $400, a 10-week seminar begins Oct. 1, entitled "From Seed to Bloom Through Radical Forgiveness." The goal of the program is for the participant to "feel emotional burdens lift, and abandon the role of victim as you open up to love, peace and gratitude."
Love, peace and gratitude. Who couldn't use a little bit of that?
Phil Fernandez writes the In the Know column that runs Mondays in the Naples Daily News. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thank you to reporter Andrew Wigdor for his help.