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Cape Coral’s Business and Industry Roundtable Series fosters communication

By CHUCK BALLARO - | Feb 19, 2024

Cape Coral City Manager Michael Ilczyszyn points to a map during a roundtable discussion on industry Friday at City Hall. CHUCK BALLARO

When Cape Coral City Manager Michael Ilczyszyn started holding business roundtables a year ago, the goal was to get a finger on the pulse of what business leaders were concerned about and how the city could help improve the business climate.

On Friday, at City Hall, Ilczyszyn had business leaders in the industrial field meet in Conference Room 200A to hear both frustrations and needs. While every business genre has its own specific issues, there has been a growing theme throughout the seven meetings the city has had.

The Business and Industry Roundtable Series aims to allow industry leaders to discuss challenges specific to Cape Coral; provide a forum for the economic outlook and opportunities for industries; and determine future initiatives needed to retain businesses and industries to strengthen the local economy.

Ilczyszyn said the result was another productive meeting and that a lot was accomplished.

“They gave us some good guidance on what we can focus on to keep their businesses here and expand and bring new business here as well,” Ilczyszyn said.

Cape Coral Economic Development Manager T. Sharon Woodberry speaks during a roundtable discussion on industry Friday at City Hall. CHUCK BALLARO

The residential-to-commercial ratio in Cape Coral has been around 92% residential to 8% commercial for years, with manufacturing being an express need.

Ilczyszyn would like to get the business side of the score in the double digits.

Meanwhile, the city and manufacturing have some unique challenges here that most major cities don’t have.

One problem that is unique to manufacturing is that most residents, when they hear manufacturing, think of smokestacks and pollution.

Most existing manufacturing in the city is clean, with no pollution occurring.

Rob Harris, executive director of Southwest Regional Manufacturers Association, said education on the subject — and the job opportunities afforded — needs to start early, and middle-school students need to understand that.

“They understand housing, but they don’t understand what manufacturing means. We need more kids interested in getting into manufacturing,” Harris said.

The city’s unique challenge is one of proximity — here is no interstate highway going through Cape Coral, no light rail or airports nor any major universities.

The Cape’s pre-platted emphasis on single-family residential during the city’s development phase is also a challenge.

The labor pool — attracting and maintaining talent — and affordable housing for also are common thread.

“We need more workforce housing and workforce development. Those two things seem to be the recurring themes, whether in finance and banking or marine and housing,” Ilczyszyn said.

Ilczyszyn said the city is going to have to start leveraging its contacts with developers to bring that kind of housing for both the local economy and to better position themselves for workforce development.

And the city is better by knowing this.

“The business leaders are engaged. They’re willing to work with the city and I’m proud we can come together and spend a few hours talking about how Cape Coral can be a partner with them,” Ilczyszyn said.

Harris said there were conversations that needed to be had.

“I just wish there were more manufacturers in the room. We talked about workforce skills, housing, expansion and the need for it. It’s something the cities and counties need to be involved with,” Harris said.

The next roundtable is scheduled for Friday, March 15, and will target leaders in the home services industry.