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.…
Represent 99.7 percent of all employer firms.
Employ about half of all private sector employees.
Pay nearly 45 percent of total U.S. private payroll.
Have generated 60 to 80 percent of net new jobs annually over the last decade.
Create more than half of nonfarm private gross domestic product (GDP).
Hire 40 percent of high tech workers (such as scientists, engineers, and computer workers).
Are 52 percent home-based and 2 percent franchises.
Made up 97.3 percent of all identified exporters and produced 28.9 percent of the known export value in FY 2006.
Produce 13 times more patents per employee than large patenting firms; these patents are twice as likely as large firm patents to be among the one percent most cited.
Source: U.S. Dept. of Commerce, Bureau of the Census and International Trade Administration
"Small businesses create more than half the new jobs. They contribute about half the country’s gross domestic product." ~ Thomas Oliver "Little help for small businesses" The Atlanta Journal-Constitution, Sunday, February 01, 2009
We all obsess about providing services to the Fortune 1000 (for the most part) in this country and what have they rewarded us with? Layoffs and hiring freezes. You think they're worried about how we're going to pay our mortgages or feed our kids?
10,000 on the Dow has seemed to be the marker for my business over the last several years - when the Dow is above 10,000 I am flat out slammed - the higher it goes the slammiered I am. At 10,000? The phones immediately go quiet - under 10,000? Forget about it! Corporate America shuts down the coffers faster than a spring-loaded trap. Let's put our heads together and figger out how we can get our services out to the providers of 80% of the jobs in this country. Hoovers lists 321,851 PRIVATELY OWNED enterprise headquarters in the United States with 86,753 of them with 100 or more employees and 12,158 of them w/1000 or more employees and 6,116 of them w/2,000 or more employees and 1,015 w/10,000 or more employees and 45 w/100,000 or more employees. But don't let those (relatively) small numbers discourage you.
CA has 3.4 million small businesses
TX has 2.1 million small businesses
NY has 1.9 million small businesses
IL has 1.1 million small businesses
OH has 901,247 small businesses
GA has 867,636 small businesses
MA has 595,959 small businesses
AZ has 474,508 small businesses
Find data on your state's Small Business Profiles for the States and Territories here. (Figures mostly from 2006, last year compiled)
I don't know about you but I think in the coming months this is where I'm going to focus my marketing efforts! What are you going to do?
Facts about Small Businesses here (data seems to be a few years old) .
U.S. SBA Office of Advocacy Frequently Asked Questions, 2008
Getting a Job in Small Business…
an even bigger challenge we will all face in the world of work from here on in.
The onslaught of technological and social change!
The need to cut carbon emissions, find oil and manage the speed of technological advancement and social change is not new to any of us, but it is now urgent for all and very soon it will take its toll on our world of work. Suddenly, every single thing we do needs to be done quicker, expend less energy and resource and cost significantly less money.
Are employers, recruiters or for that matter individuals ready for the change?
Well let’s take a look. The speed of change has gone from 6 MPH a few hundred years ago to being able to communicate and therefore change, instantaneously in 2009. We are all ‘real-time’ operators, irrespective of where we are on the planet.
Stuff of Star Wars only two decades ago!
As real time operators we have no time to think or plan. Our only plan is to change......and change; to react; to out-create and out-do our competitors as rapidly as we can.
So how will organisations work in the future?
The organisation of the future will be geographically, functionally and culturally diverse. There will be no talented individuals sitting around waiting on the bench. Why? Because organisations will not be able to afford that luxury.
In fact the potent ingredients of the capabilities of technology, the changing face of globalisation in light of the reduction in oil and other energy sources and demography fused together will not only changed the face of how business operates generally, it will also change the way recruitment is done.
When oil runs low and costs more, moving cheap goods around the planet may no longer be an option, nor will jumping on planes for a meeting or even a cheap holiday for that matter. Technological advancement does however make the whole world a ‘sweet shop’ of diverse talent that is very accessible and competitive. Many jobs, individuals and even whole organisations can and will become virtual.
The virtual organisation of the future will mean that, in comparison to today there will be very few ‘permanent’ jobs as we know it. Individuals, teams departments, units and even whole organisations will be created for specific challenges.
A talented workforce will fulfil the project or challenge and simply move on if there is not another one on the horizon. Permanency will be a distant memory and the relationship between employer and employee will be transformed to one of partnership and collaboration. Employee behaviour will be transformed from compliance to commitment and to a state of high self esteem that their predecessors didn’t enjoy (always an upside!).
So, is it all doom and gloom?
As with everything, there are pro and cons! Unpredictability and uncertainty also means opportunity for millions of people around the world. There is suddenly an opportunity to add value and capitalise on their individual talents; demolishing educational or cultural boundaries that have existed for centuries.
So we have created a global talent machine that competes on a much more equal footing than it has in the past?
I believe so! However, operating in new ways means that old processes no longer serve us well. In order to compete in this global talent machine the onus will have to be on the individual to get ready-to-employ and ready-to-go. There will be no time for a lengthy recruitment processes: everybody will develop and manage their own portfolio with everything in it required to ‘speed market’ themselves as an individual ‘asset’. Video CVs, assessments, validation documents, references and commendations, certificates and of course a CV, basically, whatever it takes to market themselves effectively and quickly!
The recruitment process will take hours not weeks or months!
Posted by Fi Haywood at 19:41
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Added by Fi Haywood at 11:00pm on October 26, 2009
rved to highlight what a fantastic resource we have here in Wales.
Welsh coal can provide affordable and reliable energy for years to come, helping to prevent over reliance upon imported fuels.
With carbon capture and storage promising to become a reality in the near future, Welsh coal could be crucial to keeping the nation’s lights on.
The Welsh mining industry also provides highly-skilled and well-paid employment to thousands of people.
We at Celtic Energy alone employ 290 people, with countless jobs then provided through contractors and in local shops where our employees spend their wages. At a time when the economy is under severe pressure, mining has the capacity to grow, helping to deliver prosperity to communities across South Wales.
The UK needs a mix of energy sources. Gas and renewable energy also have roles to play. But with energy supply looking like one of the major issues of the 21st century, what is clear is that Welsh coal can and must have a vital role to play in powering our homes and the economy.
Managing director, Celtic Energy, Caerphilly
SIR – With 80% of Russian gas exports to the EU crossing Ukraine, Vladimir Putin’s decision to reduce gas exported to Ukraine highlights the dangers of relying on imported energy.
Russia has declining cash reserves and its economy is heavily reliant on its trade in gas, yet the risk of shortages because of Mr Putin’s geopolitical games is something we can all do without.
Other countries manage to insure themselves against external shocks to their energy needs; while the UK’s market- driven approach has proven entirely inadequate.
The New Labour Government has taken a decade to recognise the need to increase storage capacity – France can store 122 days of gas, Germany 99 and the UK only 15 days.
Westminster and the devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland should work with the Irish Government to make these islands entirely self-sufficient, via renewable non-market- driven energy resources.
JONATHAN T CLARK
Plaid Cymru, Monmouth Constituency, Westminster Parliamentary Candidate
SIR – On the issue of nuclear waste storage, two of your readers (Letters, Dec 23) seek to assure us that everything is OK and perfectly tickety-boo, as all the highly-toxic nuclear waste we have produced up until now is “safely stored in specialised containers in deep caverns”.
Phew, no need to worry then.
That must however mean that the Committee on Radioactive Waste Management isn’t correct in stating that the only geological disposal facility in the world is in the US and that it only takes US defence-related waste?
It’s also not correct then that most of the UK’s nuclear waste is distributed among numerous surface storage tanks, with most of it stashed at the Sellafield site?
Perhaps they’ve got the problem sorted in France, as one of the letters confidently predicts? Maybe non! They still haven’t found a permanent home for their growing pile of highly radioactive waste either. The waste sits in heavily guarded storage at nuclear company Areva’s La Hague reprocessing plant in Normandy.
So how much would a high-level geological disposal facility in the UK cost? Estimates are currently around £12bn for one facility but a discussion paper produced by the Department of Energy and Climate Change indicates a second cannot be ruled out. That’s on top of the £73bn that the National Audit Office estimates it would cost to decommission the UK’s existing ageing nuclear power stations, never mind building a new load.
Perhaps we should start a whip-round!
SIR – Following the success (several years ago) of Scotland’s second city (Glasgow) being the European Capital of Culture, and last year’s success of Liverpool doing the same thing for England, isn’t it time that Wales followed suit?
There is so much going on in the www.swansea2020.com campaign, that I think it is the ideal time for our second city to show its hand and apply for the honour.
I did hear a rumour that Cardiff had already applied, but isn’t it the case that a country’s capital city is exempt?
SIR – I am putting together a manuscript, hopefully for publication, regarding Woolworths stores.
This is planned to be a social history of this famous name, which unfortunately is no longer with us.
Everybody has a story to tell regarding Woolies and I would like to invite recollections from former staff members and shoppers alike from any UK store for inclusion in the book.
Photographs taken of the inside and outside of the shops, especially in former years, would be most useful, especially during the 1960s and beyond when each department had its own counter and cash till.
So if you were a Saturday girl or regular member of staff or a shopper who can recall their days in Woolworths, then please send or e-mail your memories and/or photographs (which will be carefully handled and returned).
Whitcross, Barwick, Somerset, BA22 9TQ or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
SIR – Stuart Walters in his letter (Dec 31) said that the Welsh were sensitive about jokes made about them and they should shrug them off.
He did not explain for what purpose or why the English, and no-one else, make denigrating jokes about the Welsh.
Some of his list of what was wrong with the Welsh “nationalist” (which he could not describe as Quislings, traitors, fifth columnist etc) were: “Never lived out or worked outside the country, obsessed with cultural and national identity, no sense of humour, suspicious villagers distrustful of outsiders, babbling an incomprehensible language” – which shows how some English monoglots have been neutered from understanding the language that they use.
It is ironic that some clowns say that we should be proud of being “British”, when the Welsh are kept legally deprived and inferior in their own country in order to make the English the master race in Wales.
History has shown that those who have laws for others which they would not have for themselves are judged by history to be morally insane.
SIR – The Government’s proposal to make people on disability benefit work for it is ludicrous.
Much like their proposal to pay individuals and companies up to £50,000 to employ one person on disability is unworkable.
Being on disability allowance myself, I recently applied for help to get back into work at my local Jobcentre (Neath) and was told that I would have to wait five weeks to see a (disability to work) adviser, as they only employed one adviser part time.
SIR – A regular reader of these letters pages might be led to believe that the recent cold spell casts doubt on the science of climate change. It does not.
According to the Met Office, the global temperature for 2000 to 2008 now stands almost 0.20°C warmer than the average for the decade 1990-1999.
As carbon dioxide levels have risen, so have global temperatures.
The variations that occur from year to year are significantly influenced by the cooling (La Niña) and warming (El Niño) events in the tropical Pacific.
Last year was, as predicted by the Met Office, cooler as a result of a strong La Niña, while 1998 was particularly warm as a result of a strong El Niño.
The fact that 1998 is the warmest year on record does not mean that the world is cooling.
Ten of the warmest years on record have, in fact, occurred since 1997.
The trend is, as predicted by climate scientists, definitely upwards.
Scientists have recently reported temperature rises of up to 50°C in the Arctic, with ice melting much faster than anticipated.
The real concern today is that we are under-estimating the threat posed by climate change and failing to implement polices to address it.
Friends of the Earth Cymru, Cardiff
SIR – The Duke of Beaufort pockets more than £250,000 from Swansea ratepayers.
All above board and legal and for a bridge that does bring some benefit to the city.
But let us get this into perspective. This sum is chicken feed compared with what the Duke will get from us, via our electricity bills, if he is allowed to desecrate Mynydd y Gwair with his virtually useless windmills.
ALUN JOHN RICHARDS