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Lee County researches branding five-county region; Hopes to draw new industry to area

By Staff | Sep 17, 2008

Lee County economic development leaders want Southwest Florida to have its own distinctive brand, one that will aid in luring potential new businesses to the area.

Members of the county’s Economic Development Office met with two Florida-based marketing firms Tuesday to hopefully move toward that goal.

Schifino Lee Advertising and Branding of Tampa and Chisano Marketing Group of Tampa and Orlando pitched their ideas on how they would showcase the area.

Along with Lee, Collier and Charlotte, the proposed regional brand would include Glades and Hendry counties, along with Sarasota.

The Economic Development Office said it has not made a decision on which pitch would be selected, but it plans to do so within “the next couple of weeks.”

“A decision was not made,” spokeswoman Jennifer Berg said. “Both (marketing firms) are very experienced and capable. We should be making a decision soon.”

The Economic Development Office hopes to attract a wide range of highly skilled, high-wage jobs to diversify a region that is heavily dependent on tourism and construction dollars.

Berg said that after the decision has been made, the next step will be to sit down with the region’s stakeholders to discuss goals.

Commissioner Bob Janes thinks Lee County’s future may lie in these “new” industries, and he supports the idea of identity branding.

“I think what it does is link the five-county area together, makes a commonality out of the advertising,” Janes said. “It might help get us away from relying solely on construction. Not that there’s anything wrong with construction — it is important — but we need more avenues, we need to diversify.”

Mike Jackson, director of the city of Cape Coral’s Economic Development Office, also attended Tuesday’s meeting.

Jackson said it is important for each part of the five-county region to reach an understanding of what it is they have to offer. It is equally important for the Cape to be represented in the bigger picture.

“I believe Cape Coral needs to have a place at the regional table,” he said. “I intend to do what I can to make sure the Cape has a voice. We’ve been welcome thus far. I believe the city should be in the middle of this.”

Jackson warned that a “branding strategy” is a challenging prospect considering the disparate reaches of the five-county area, six if Sarasota is indeed considered part of Southwest Florida.

He compared the process to branding Ford and Jaguar. Both car companies are owned by the same entity, but they retain their own distinctive brands.

“How do we make sure everyone wins?” Jackson asked.

The proposed brand is at the heart of the complex battle, according to the Lee County Economic Development Office.

Time will tell if the separate pieces can be represented and unified under one regional brand.

“It’s a discovery process,” Berg said. “We’ll be taking a real look at our (regional) strengths and our weaknesses. We all realize the importance of a regional effort and regional synergy.”