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Economic directors see great futures for Lee, Cape

By Staff | Jul 12, 2014

The vision for Cape Coral in 2035 is not the same as it was in 1978. Instead of being a bedroom community, it is seen as a bustling city with a thriving economy and a huge corporate presence.

Dana Brunett and Rick Michael, economic directors of Cape Coral and Lee County, respectively, spoke to builders at the monthly Cape Coral Construction Industry Association (CCCIA) meeting Friday to give them their vision of what they expect the area to become in the coming years.

That means attracting businesses that generate real income, and they agreed that success in Lee County means success in Cape Coral and vice versa.

Brunett said the difference in from six years ago to now is night and day. The days of abandoned homes have become days where worldwide television audiences are seeing what the city has become.

“We’re back on the top 10 lists of best cities to live and work in. We’ve turned the corner,” Brunett said. “The best way to grow is to find out who does it best and do it better.”

Brunett anticipates tremendous growth along the Pine Island Road corridor, which is still in need of utilities and where Sam’s Club and a Wal-Mart neighborhood store will soon be coming, and near the VA hospital and the just-opened National Guard Armory to the north where there are 425 acres waiting to be developed.

“It’s exciting to see how things have changed in the last 2 1/2 years. We’ve gone from ‘I hope’ to ‘It is,'” Brunett said. “We’re looking to recruit businesses and create space for them.”

Michael’s view was the same as Brunett’s, only on a more regional and futuristic level. And he wants to leverage the resources of talent and skill.

By 2035, Lee County is expected to have 1.2 million people, nearly double what is has now, Michael said. That means 300,000 more vehicles and between 200,000 and 250,000 jobs.

Cape Coral is anticipated to have roughly 112,000 more jobs.

“We have 30 Publix in Lee County that employ 5,000 people. We expect 20 more by 2035,” Michael said. “We have 27 Wal-Marts in Lee County now. We expect another 21 to 23 in 20 years.”

However, minimum wage jobs aren’t exactly what either is looking for.

“We want levels in the $80,000 and $90,000 range; larger homes and more spendable income,” Michael said. “We want business to generate business air traffic and more flights out of Fort Myers International Airport.”

In the immediate future, Lee County has already secured Hertz. Michael said, and is seeking to have two more corporate relocations in the fall.

For the Cape, a five-minute video was made on the virtues of making the city a great place to work, live and play. Three businesses have made the move, Brunett said, allowing the video to pay for itself.

“The question I had is how this translates into what kind of transition we can expect in the Northwest Cape,” said Stephen Tate of Interface Financial Group, who lives in the sparsely populated area. “We don’t have the infrastructure up there, and yet it has the most space for businesses to come to.”

Former councilman and CCCIA member Marty McClain said the county has an edge on the city in luring businesses and that the city and Brunett have to decide what he wants in the city.

“Lee County has a few more tools to work with regarding impact fees and other incentives. I think Cape Coral is trying to work with that,” McClain said. “I think we’re going to look at the projects and prioritize what we want to bring in. Dana has done a great job here.”