the company of a solid team of mentors, one gets introduced to talented individuals. Occasionally, I am in a position to offer these introductions resources where merited that bring shine to those diamonds in the rough. I have seen quite a bit of shine within the team at Talentbridge, and one person in particular, Miss Ryan Phillips, makes me want to wear sunglasses whenever we speak. Why? For someone without formal training, and relatively few years experience compared to other colleagues who have made an impression within a recruiting team - Ms. Ryan is a walking, talking, sourcing example extraordinaire of what JobMachine webinars can do to advance their skill set. Often I stated that my best students have had no prior industry experience but perhaps, be it that they have no existing habits to restrain themselves from, they are keen to starting right and focused from the beginning. In this case, Ryan is a Shally and Glenn devotee I cannot claim credit for, but nonetheless I have taken a keen interest in her success.
Yes, JobMachine can take much of the credit for her advanced knowledge base, but the desire to learn and keep up to date cannot be understated. Ryan Phillips has that enthusiasm for sourcing I see in my daughter's eyes on Christmas morning. I would dare say, sincerely, that her capabilities equal a recruiter with five to ten years experience based upon the quality of resumes and spreadsheet sourcing I have witnessed first hand. I saw something sparkle in her and today I want you to put your shades on and shake virtual hands with my friend, Ryan Phillips.
Q&A with RYAN PHILLIPS
Six Degrees: Tell us of your home world.
RYAN: I am an engineering recruiter for Microsoft’s Core Operating System Division.
I have been in a relationship a great guy for just over 2 years and am very happy. We have a small toy poodle named Ozzy that was a Hurricane Katrina rescue animal and he has been interesting to say the least; however he’s cute and we love him.
Six Degrees: What brings pleasure to your life outside of your professional life as a sourcer
RYAN: I am an amateur sporting clay shooter, or at least starting to be. It is my most latest hobby and I just recently bought my first 28 gauge Beretta. My boyfriend has been shooting for most of his life and brought me into this very addicting hobby in the last year. We have been traveling to several events and also are members as the Coyote Ranch Sport Clay Shooting Club in Morgan Hill, CA.
I am also an AVID traveler. I love international traveling and was a Linguistics major in my undergrad. I speak Spanish fluently and quite a bit of conversational Japanese. I moved to Japan for a year right after graduating from college with my Bachelor’s degree. My favorite trip thus far though has been to Israel. I love foreign language and foreign culture.
I also love fishing and have being finishing since I was about 4 years old with my dad.
Six Degrees: Tell us about your work on behalf of TalentBridge servicing Microsoft?
RYAN: I work for TalentBridge, an engineering retained search division of TAC Worldwide and our team is devoted 100% to Microsoft. TalentBridge was retained to augment the recruiting staffs of three divisions, and tasked to fill positions with highly skilled software engineers not previously identified by Microsoft recruiters.
My main responsibilities are finding highly desired passive candidates for high level engineering position within the Core Operating System Division of Microsoft.
Six Degrees: What do you like best about your current position?
RYAN: For about the last 2 years I have been recruiting nearly 100% for engineering positions. Recruiting engineers is an exciting day everyday for me as I am constantly meeting people who are passionate about creating new and advanced technology. I have met engineers that have not only worked on technologies that exist within my own home but that have also changed the lives of others. I have met an engineer that worked on the PS3, and another that helped created the Tomb Raider game series as well as one that was the lead on Intel’s wireless trusted platform. I know another engineer that worked on the very first LIMO (Linux for Mobile) cell phone and another that worked on the very first TIVO DVR as well as the program that allows you to view Netflix film on-demand online. I placed an engineer that helped created the very first insulin inhaler and I know engineers that have been working on developing printer drivers since there were those small holes in the side of the paper. All of these things are important in the advancement of technology and it is a pleasure to meet and recruit these people to inevitably further their careers and the further advancement in technology as a whole.
Six Degrees: How many years have you been a recruiter?
RYAN: I have actually not been in Technical recruiting very long as prior to living in the Bay Area I worked for Blue Shield of California. I have just over 2 years here in the Bay Area.
Six Degrees: How did you get started as a recruiter?
RYAN: I was kind of thrown into having to recruit while working for Blue shield. That was not my original position. I realized it was something I really enjoyed and a co-worker urged me to seek out a technical recruiting position in the Bay Area to move forward in my career as at that time I was working on my Master’s Degree in a technology field.
Six Degrees: What single event had the most impact on your sourcing/recruiting career?
RYAN: Learning how to REALLY use the internet to work for you! There are so many great tools on the internet and it is so easy to connect with great engineers without having to actually see their resumes or find an actually resume. Blogs are great place to talk to people who are experts in specific technologies.
Do you have a mentor to whom you attribute your overall outlook on recruitment, capabilities, and/or model your career after?
RYAN: I would have to say my best friend. She has been very encouraging and always telling me about new things she find as well. She doesn’t give up on even the most un-fillable purple squirrels and she has in fact filled quite a few of those in her recruiting times.
Six Degrees: What is your next career goal? What do you need to do to get there?
RYAN: The most important thing to me is sharing what I know with others to help make them successful as well. It makes me feel good when I can teach others what I have learned. With that, I hope to one day be a sourcing trainer as I feel that even over the last few years I have learned more about the sourcing aspect of recruiting than anything else. Even when I get the most difficult requirement in front of me, I am able to research and find a path to the perfect candidate to fill that role. I love sourcing and as I love to learn new things and I also enjoy being able to give those things back to others in return to ultimately help make them successful as sharing your success is what really shows your have accomplished something.
In order to achieve my future career goal, I need to continue to gain more knowledge of sourcing and research; however also I need someone to grant me this opportunity. I really feel that when the time is right that this perfect opportunity will be put in my path for me to stumble upon as I have found in each past opportunity that there was a reason I was put there and I have gained something from each past opportunity that has further made me successful. I am happy with both my past achievements and failures as they have both given me knowledge to become more successful and creative as a recruiting professional.
Recommendations For Ryan
“Ryan is a fantastic recruiter that actually understands the art of engineering and what differences exist in the world of engineering. After dealing with many recruiters that were simply trying to match one or two keywords, it's refreshing to see that someone like Ryan exists who can see the entirety of what professionals candidates bring to the table. Even if you are not looking, I would highly recommend a conversation with Ryan as it would be inviting and refreshing to speak with someone on the same level.” July 9, 2008
Arun Gupta, Technical Marketing Engineer, Panasonic
“Ryan was great to work with and very good at what she does. I highly recommend her and would be happy to work with her again.” May 12, 2008
Adam Carrillo, QA Engineer, Panasonic
“Ryan is an outstanding recruiter with exceptional knoweldge, eXtreme Contacts, ability to make sure both client and applicant are in a win-win situation, and, she has unlimited energy. She stays with the recruiting and the hiring process until and unless it is 100% complete.” October 29, 2007
Bruce Razban, President/Founder, Razban Internet International (RII)
“Ryan is a fantastic recruiter and, moreover, representative for Artizen. She went above and beyond the call of duty to help me matriculate into my new workplace.” October 5, 2007
Saundi Wilson, Research and Development, Panasonic
“Ryan is a rarity in the recruiting world. She is willing to go above and beyond to assist clients and recruits; to the extent of working after normal business hours and weekends and is always available and a quick phone call away. Thanks Ryan!” October 2, 2007
Terry Bowdell, Controller, Urigen Pharmaceuticals, Inc
“Ryan has been identfying contract work for me since the beginning of 2007. Her ability to find the opportunities whether presented straightforward as a contract opportunity or through creative discussions with her clients has been very impressive; show casing her ability to be not only a good Account Executive but a great Business Development person as well. I've found her to be a consummate professional at all times and a conscientious client service manager making sure the client's needs are always met.” September 11, 2007
Michael Bubenyak, Compensation Consultant, Independent Contractor
“Ryan is a great recruiter. She is very hands on and takes the time to always be available. I love working with her and wish all my dealings with recruiters could be as nice as my experience working with her.” September 10, 2007. Top qualities: Great Results, Personable, High Integrity
“Ryan is energetic, dedicated and fun to work with.” August 31, 2007
Khaled Amro, PMP, CEO & President, AmroSoft, LLC
“Ryan is an excellent driven and innovative recruiter; she is excellent team player with a quick mind and she was highly successfull when we worked together. Ryan was always quick to give praise, help others with any technoclogies or process they did not understand; she will be an excellent value to any organization she joins and I hope we can work together in the future!
Mikaela Smith, Senior Recruiter, Netpolarity
“Ryan develops tactical sourcing strategies, solutions and campaigns aimed at generating candidate flow that meet overall recruiting goals. She is pleasant to work with, professional, ethical and loyal. Ryan is a great asset to any organization.” April 17, 2008
Souny Sinwongsa, Sr. Recruiter, Talent Bridge…
d and I recently celebrated our ten year anniversary. We have two boys. Damian is 6 ½ and Aidan is almost 2 years old. Princy, the cat, has allowed me to share her space for the past 12 years.
Damian started first grade in September, and this is his third year attending a French school. He is already the star mathematician in his class, and is a very good reader. Aidan is on his way to becoming champion of “How to get what I want,” as all three of us spoil him rotten – except for Princy, she goes into hiding whenever he approaches.
We’re a multicultural household. I was born in Lebanon, lived in Greece for five years, in Southern California for two years, before settling in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, where I met my husband who was born in Egypt.
Both of us had travelled a lot in our childhood, and extended that into our adult life. Even Aidan is shaping up to become a world traveler, having been to Greece at the age of 8 months. He will have difficulties catching up to his older brother though, who has already been to Greece (twice), Spain, Italy, and Jamaica – he can also claim being to Egypt and Lebanon when he was in mommy’s tummy.
Six Degrees: How many years as a recruiter?
Maha: I have been in recruitment for the past ten years, starting as a third party recruiter, and moving into the corporate recruitment world shortly after. I have been working as an Independent *Corporate* Recruiter for the past 6 years.
Six Degrees: How did you get started as a recruiter?
Maha: I always knew I wanted to be a recruiter when I grew up. No, not really. With a BSc. in Psychology, and having completed my Masters coursework in Marriage, Therapy, and Child Therapy, at the University of La Verne (California), I had no knowledge of the existence of that species.
I came to Toronto 12 years ago, and had my first exposure to Agency Recruiters. I found myself more interested in what they did, as opposed to the job they were telling me about. I knew then, it was a career I needed to learn more about.
I started recruiting for the engineering industry, and did that both as an agency recruiter, as well as working for a Consulting Engineering company. I also worked in the Finance Industry, and later found my niche in the Life Sciences industry, whether be it pharma, biotech, lab equipment, or, currently, medical devices.
Six Degrees: What single event had the most impact on your sourcing/recruiting career?
Maha: I cannot think of one single event that strongly impacted my career in recruitment, or left a significant mark in my life as a recruiter. I believes it was a series of small *dents.* I, like many others, never had any formal training in recruitment. I was lucky, though, to have started around the same time the internet was becoming more “public.”
And in 1999, I discovered ERE (at the time when headhunter.net was free, and information on the internet was more free-flowing), and became an avid reader of each and every article, every forum - there were no blogs then -, and even had the opportunity to attend one of Barbara Ling’s seminars in 2000.
As more personalities emerged and forged a name for themselves in the world of recruitment, I followed them – okay stalked them. As more tools became available, I grabbed them (thank you Shally for the LinkedIn invite in 2004), and learnt how to use them.
As communities were built, I became part of them. And I read, and I studied, and I tried, and I failed, and I succeeded. And when I look back at my life, I can say that, ten years later, those small dents definitely left a big mark.
Do you have a mentor to whom you attribute your overall outlook on recruitment, capabilities, and/or model your career after?
Maha: I owe a lot of my on-the-job learning to Art Boyle, my boss at Canpro Executive Search. When I worked with him back in 2000-2001, he was the owner of an exclusively retainer agency. Art did not post his roles. He did not believe in job boards, or even in Newspaper ads. Cold calling and getting references were his tools. He taught me how to use those tools; and he taught me the power of forging relationships, not only with the hiring managers, but more importantly with the candidates. Whether you have placed them, or not, he believed, one day you will need that individual on the other side of the line; either to place in two, three years from now, when they have gained more experience, or to ask for a referral; or maybe, even, as a client.
Six Degrees: Tell us about your work
Maha: When I take on a contract, I am often a sole recruiter supporting the organization. As a corporate recruiter, I support all businesses in their recruitment needs, and manage vendors.
I am involved in all aspect of the recruitment process, from assessing and understanding the needs of a hiring manager, and how it relates to the company objectives; sourcing; screening; interviewing; feedback; reference checking; and negotiating and presenting the offer.
Six Degrees: (A) What other companies' recruiting operations do you admire or have heard are best-practice examples?
Maha: Organizations in Ontario have a long way to go to become leaders in recruitment, and, unfortunately, I cannot think of a company which I can say stands out from the crowd.
Six Degrees: What recent general news story or industry trend do you feel will have an impact on your work in the future? Why?
Maha: One cannot hide from the current situation and the economical downturn. Will it negatively impact my current consulting role? At this time, I don’t think so. While other companies are downsizing, we are still going strong, and looking at increasing the workforce by 50% within the next six months.
Six Degrees: What is your next career goal? What do you need to do to get there?
Maha: To keep doing what I am doing. Keep learning, and improving. I enjoy working on a consultant basis, joining a new company, looking at how they view recruitment, showing them the value of recruitment, improving their process, and most importantly bringing new talent on board.
Recommendations For Maha
“I had the pleasure of working on the same team with Maha @ IDEXX and partnered with her on several occassions. Besides being a delight to work with, Maha brings a professionalism and wealth of experience to the table which is invaluable. I highly recommend Maha's work and hope to partner with her in the future.” May 19, 2008
Ann-Marie Abbott, Contract Healthcare Recruiter, IDEXX Laboratories
“Maha is a well-rounded recruiter with experience in the corporate, staffing, and executive recruitment fields. She brought a wealth of strengths to our team including knowledge of the Canadian market, outstanding sourcing and research skills, creativity, technical savvy, and professionalism. She is a seasoned recruiter capable of learning quickly and tackling new challenges. It was a pleasure having Maha on my team. I counted on her expertise to launch a successful recruiting program across Canada.” May 14, 2008
Cydney Runions, Sr. Recruiter (Reference Labs Recruiting Manager), IDEXX Laboratories, Inc.
“Maha is an exceptional Recruiter and team member. Though Maha and I had a long distance working relationship, we worked extremely well together. Maha is very detail oriented and has great work ethic. Maha always made herself available for questions and had excellent follow through. Maha was able to work through difficult situations by keeping a calm presence. She will be missed!” May 13, 2008
Jessica Warren, Employment Coordinator, IDEXX Laboratories
“Maha was a very responsive, knowledgeable & trusted member of HR who greatly facilitated my integration into Bayer.” March 12, 2008
Rahul Ghosh, Brand Manager, Bayer Inc.
“Maha is truly a professional in her field. She has a keen sense of urgency that I appreciate as a salesforce manager. Her expertise and ability to screen potential hires has enabled me to focus on what I need to do and mimimize my time interviewing poor candidates. It has been a pleasure working with Maha.” April 27, 2006
Ernie Chow, Corporate Recruiter, Amex
“Maha and I worked together at American Express, although our time was brief she showed extreme professionalism in her work.” February 27, 2006
Ted Pierni, Manager, Talent Acquisition, American Express
“It was a privilege to have had the opportunity to work with Maha at Amex. She is a professional, resourceful and dedicated Recruiter. She is a master at building relationships, sourcing candidates and ensuring that her clients' needs are met. It was truly a pleasure working with and getting to know Maha.” February 23, 2006
Mariam Medina, Corporate Recruiter, Amex Canada Inc.
“I had the priviledge of working with Maha during her tenure with American Express. I found her to be a very positive, enthusastic and dedicated Recruiter. Maha's ability to build relationships with her Business Leaders was evident in the feedback our department received with regards to her performance. As a colleague she was great to work with and with her great sense of humour, great fun.” February 20, 2006
James Britton, Corporate Recruiter, American Express
“It was a pleasure working with Maha at American Express. We were able to not only develop a professional relationship but a personal one as well. She is very knowledgeable in her field of recruiting, and will continue to keep in touch hoping our paths will cross again in the future.” February 19, 2006
Natasha Wakefield, Recruiter, American Express
“Maha is the epitome of today's corporate recruiter: She's highly resourceful; research oriented; technologically savvy; and adept at relationship building.” February 19, 2006
Nigel Peña, Human Resources Business Partner, Wyeth
“I highly recommend Maha for her exceptional ability to build networks which exponentially impact her ability to connect her clients with top caliber talents. Maha is a very talented and ethical person and her work was greatly appreciated at Wyeth.” April 3, 2006
Peivand Pirouzi, Ph.D., M.B.A., Professor / Corporate Trainer in Clinical Pharmacology, Wyeth Pharmaceuticals
“I highly enjoyed working with Maha. She is a very solid hands on HR person who has a sense of urgency in booking interviews for talented candidates and as well, is fair when reviewing candidates' backgrounds. It felt like a team working towards the same goal. February 13, 2006
Linda Boufford, Wyeth
“As a fellow ERE contributor with Maha I have observed first hand a sharp intelect and willingness to explore all options to get the job done.” December 22, 2004
“I worked closely with Maha during a major pharmaceutical sales force expansion. A large project such as this can be a stressful time. However, Maha's ability to prioritize and exceptional time management skills allowed the project to come to a successful conclusion. She was a pleasure to work with and she treated me - her supplier - as a full member of the team. A true professional!” December 22, 2004
Laird Holms, Recruitment Consultant/Recruitment Specialist, RBC
“I was impressed with Maha's resourcefulness in finding passive candidates and her professionalism in dealing with all levels of staff.” February 25, 2006
Alexandra Small, Bilingual Recruiter, RBC Financial
“I have known Maha for about three years. She's a pleasure to work with, knowledgable and extremely professional. What she did best was partnered with the business and clients. She will be an asset to any team she joins.” February 15, 2006
“I worked with Maha at RBC. Maha is a great person, she excels in everything she does. She is full of knowledge and always willing to share her information with others. Maha is a solid HR/Recruitment professional.” February 14, 2006
Cathy Taylor, Talent Acquisition Specialist, Ceridian
“Maha and I worked together on a hiring project for RBC Financial Group in 2002. Her dedication, expertise, and communication were invaluable as we faced high volumes and tight deadlines. She is a true teamplayer!” December 28, 2004
Tina Iantorno, Recruitment Consultant, RBC Financial Group
“Maha is one of the most professional and respectful recruiters I have ever worked with, offering a high degree of integrity, creativity in her candidate sourcing, a clear focus, and a calm and clear-headed approach to managing any challenge. Maha was a lead contributor to RBC's critical recruitment initiatives.” December 22, 2004
Lisa Kruger, Recruitment & Retention Specialist, RBC Financial Group…
te of the Southwest Florida economy
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Lee County is wagering up to $25 million, and the region's vitality, on an Economic Development Office that's struggled to recruit and retain businesses.
The agency's efforts to generate jobs have sputtered at the same time the county is suffering a 9.8 percent unemployment rate and the undesirable label as America's foreclosure capital.
In the past 10 years, the taxpayer-supported Economic Development Office hasn't knocked the socks off many CEOs looking for greener pastures. According to its own data, the agency provided extensive logistical help in establishing 36 companies in target areas. Combined, they pledged to create 1,903 jobs, which amounts to less than 1 percent of Lee's labor force of 284,036 people.
Agency projections turned out to be optimistic. The News-Press spent two months tracking down those 36 companies, finding that:
- Eleven have ceased their operations here.
- Ten remaining companies employ fewer workers than anticipated; two are about to call it quits.
- Thirteen companies met or exceeded employment projections by a combined 242 jobs.
- Two companies did not return multiple calls.
All told, those 36 companies dwindled to 25, and those 1,903 jobs were cut to 1,005 positions, not counting the two non-responsive businesses.
Those numbers have not deterred Lee commissioners from believing the economic development office can revolutionize our economy.
"They've done an extremely exemplary job, from Sony to Source Interlink to Lynx Services," said Commission Chairman Ray Judah, referring to three companies the agency has assisted. "There are a number of organizations they attracted to Lee County that are expanding and hiring more employees."
Commissioners authorized a $25 million incentive program to lure companies and help existing businesses expand operations. It's quick cash is meant to relieve the economic bedlam that's been plaguing our community.
But if the agency hasn't succeeded in building a solid, diversified economy, why entrust it with an amount that's 14 times its annual budget?
Ron Inge, former chairman of a community leadership group called the Horizon Council, initially suggested the incentives. He said Lee County has been at a disadvantage for the past decade as other regions wave cash at prospective businesses.
"It's a huge competitive environment," Inge said. "In that 10-year period, we were competing against communities that had incentives already."
Jim Moore, the agency's executive director since August, admits money won't fix a broader problem that Lee's economy is too reliant on construction, real estate and tourism. Today's business climate isn't exactly suitable for companies looking to expand or relocate.
"The businessman would be foolish to go ahead with plans, given the economy," Moore said.
Times are tough, but they're also tough in Brevard County, which managed to land the Brazilian jet manufacturer Embraer last May. Embraer inquired about building its $50 million, 150,000-square-foot aircraft assembly facility in Lee, but chose Melbourne, the beneficiary of 200 new jobs paying an average salary of $50,000. Embraer officials wouldn't say what qualities Lee was lacking, but Melbourne-area and state agencies ponied up $12 million in incentives.
Brent Barkway, business development officer for Lee's economic development agency, suspects this region was missing one key ingredient.
"The amount of aerospace engineers on that side of the state was too much for us to overcome," Barkway said. "It's not that there is anything wrong with us."
To woo prospects, Lee recruiters boast of our high quality of life, pro-business climate and growing work force. Sounds good, but corporate executives hear the same, if not better, sales pitches elsewhere.
In 2003, the Scripps Research Institute also checked into Lee, which emerged as one of four finalists. After evaluating contenders, the biomedical research group instead chose Jupiter for its 364,000-square-foot center. Keith McKeown, Scripps' vice president of communications and public relations, would not specify what Lee County lacked, but said Palm Beach County had six distinct advantages:
- The county donated 100 acres and $157 million in construction costs, in addition to $310 million in startup costs from state government.
- Palm Beach's housing inventory was ample for scientists and researchers.
- Southeast Florida had easy national and international flight connections.
- The Palm Beach area had variety in its cultural and physical amenities.
- Scripps staff felt Palm Beach closely resembled the institute's headquarters near San Diego.
- Palm Beach residents had money and influence.
"Palm Beach is one of the philanthropic capitals of the country," McKeown said.
Scripps' contract with Florida requires the institute to employ at least 545 people by 2013.
Lee wants to land a few "Tiffany targets," as Moore calls them, but the lack of a clincher is not just a Lee County problem. In December, the Economic Development Foundation in Naples released its 2008 Florida Economic Scorecard, comparing the state's eight geographic regions in 26 categories. Southwest Florida as a whole - Collier, Lee and Charlotte counties - ranked dead last. Northwest Florida was first.
There's no sense dwelling on the past, Lee officials say. Barkway believes Lee has 25 realistic, active prospects looking to relocate their businesses. Another bright spot is a 37 percent increase in recruitment and business assistance contacts logged by economic development staff in 2008 vs. 2007.
The Economic Development Office is a small operation with 15 employees and a $1.7 million annual budget. Moore, who earns $124,615 a year, took the helm this summer after Regina Smith, agency head for five years, accepted a county buyout.
The agency does not recruit restaurants, retail stores or hotels. It pursues companies in six target industries: aviation, shared services, corporate headquarters, information technology, life sciences and manufacturing. Staffers provide market research to anyone, but focus on target companies planning to create a minimum of 10 jobs, generate at least 51 percent of revenue outside Florida and offer salaries at 125 percent of Lee's average wage.
The 36 companies
Digital Telecom Access Control looked promising, a custom computer programming business projected to employ 15 workers earning $75,000 a year. It opened five years ago in Cape Coral. Today, callers are greeted by a recording: Press one for sales, press two for technical support, press three for the business office. Sounds like a big operation, but in actuality, all calls lead to owner and president Michael Fischer - the last man standing.
"We had a couple of good contracts, but the economy started to go in a different direction," Fischer said. "The telecom sector has come to a screeching halt."
D-TAC's decline isn't a rarity.
CallTech, a global call center, opened its Fort Myers facility in 1999, quickly outlining a series of expansions to bump the employee count to 500. CallTech's work force disintegrated just as fast. Director of recruiting Jim Phillips said the center closed in 2007 because of a client reduction that coincided with a lease expiration. Its 25,000-square-foot facility remains vacant.
BeSafe International, which manufactured protective vests for police officers, spent the past month moving its operation from Fort Myers to Miami after four years here. Flexi International, a software company that brought its regional office to Lee in 2000, moved to Naples five years later.
BeSafe and Flexi are the types of business Lee County wants: manufacturing and high-tech industries that sell products outside the region and pay above-average wages. They also are the types of business Lee County has trouble attracting and trouble keeping.
In December, the county hired Denver-based Atlas Advertising to create a campaign promoting Lee on a national level. Ben Wright, Atlas' CEO and founder, said losing businesses is not uncommon as company executives evaluate their options.
Wright discerned that two Floridas have emerged in economic development, and Lee isn't necessarily vying for an Embraer or Scripps with Brevard or Palm Beach, counties that feature bigger, better-trained work forces.
"Prospects and companies differentiate between the west coast of Florida and the east coast," Wright said. "We're not so sure we're competing with the rest of the state."
The Economic Development Commission of Florida's Space Coast helped bring 12 companies to Brevard County in the past five years, when it began tracking the data. Lee, by comparison, landed 14 companies in that timeframe. Brevard's companies generated 977 new jobs to Lee's 776.
The true difference between Brevard and Lee are the types of new businesses opening shop. Brevard's include a glut of manufacturers: aircraft, airplane parts, medical supplies, electronics, guided missile and rubber. Lee's newcomers manufactured bulletproof vests, doors, metal products and pharmaceuticals, along with food packaging and headquarters for manufacturing and insurance firms.
Four months after commissioners approved the $25 million incentive, the economic development office is revealing its first recommendation, the expansion of a marketing research and public opinion polling firm. The undisclosed company plans to build a 70,000-square-foot facility and create 200 jobs over five years, each averaging $60,000-a-year salaries. Commissioners will vote Tuesday on whether the project merits $350,000 in incentives.
Jennifer Berg, marketing and communications manager for the economic office, said an 80-employee consumer finance company soon will announce it is relocating here.
Moore repeatedly has stated he'd rather not spend a penny of the $25 million, calling the incentives a marketing tool.
"The only way I'm going to use the $25 million is to close the deal," Moore said. "I'm not going to put it out there on the table and say 'please come have as much as you want.'"
New vs. existing
In the past decade, the economic development office helped 77 businesses expand their local presence, creating 3,403 new jobs. Just like new companies, some existing businesses also closed their doors. Paragon Marketing added 40 employees in 1999, but closed the office three years later. Neomedia Technologies was going strong when the software design company added 35 employees in 2000. The company restructured in 2007, uprooting its world headquarters to Atlanta so it could "offer close contact to potential customers and easier access to international markets," according to a news release.
As the economy worsens, Lee's economic development office will monitor local businesses.
"Who is more loyal to this community than the people who are already here, have their roots here, have their families here and would like to keep them here?" Moore said.
That's fine, but Carlene Maurer, co-owner of Beach Bowl near Fort Myers Beach, admits she is struggling to keep the business afloat, but still wants to open a snack shop and arcade there. Beach Bowl, like a majority of local businesses, does not qualify for incentives because it's not a target industry looking to create 75 new jobs. Maurer relayed her idea after The News-Press solicited comments from the public.
She suggested $100,000 grants for 250 existing businesses. That $25 million, she said, would inject cash flow into companies with desire to stay in business here.
"What about us existing businesses?" Maurer said later in an interview. "We might have to shut down."
Horizon Council chairman John Wiest said a future discussion can, and should, include existing businesses that need financial help, but the $25 million has a one purpose.
"That is clearly to diversify the economy and mitigate against future economic problems," he said.
About the series
Lee County has always relied on two main industries: real estate and tourism. Despite a lot of time and money spent on the need to broaden our business base, the current downturn shows we still are not diversified enough. When the construction industry collapsed, it led to the loss of thousands of jobs from retailing and restaurants to government and financial services.
We solicited comments from the public and got dozens of suggestions on how to improve our economy. We held five meetings in which 38 business and community leaders gave us their thoughts and suggestions. And we’ve set up Web pages so the discussion can continue through the coming weeks and beyond.
A rundown on the series:
Millions: Lee County recently handed its Economic Development Office $25 million to spark economic growth. But that agency’s performance is mixed. What industries should the agency be looking to recruit?
Problems: How Lee’s lack of diversification hurts local residents. As we try to recover, there are plenty of stumbling blocks.
The upside: Lee County is well-positioned for a return to prosperity and should be able to reinvent itself.
Beginning Jan. 26, we’ll have a daily solution to our economic problems based on your feedback and we’ll wrap up with a look ahead Feb. 1.…