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Regional cooperation required to spur economic development; Site selection consultant workshop attracts crowd

By Staff | Sep 24, 2008

A week after the Lee County Economic Development Office announced it would push for a regional branding of Southwest Florida as a destination for relocating companies, Cape Coral officials and business leaders were told local cooperation is key to attracting new businesses.

Michael Rareshide, executive vice president of Partners National, a Dallas-based company offering corporate real estate services, spoke to a group of about 120 during a site selection consultant workshop Tuesday.

“I want one group focused with me on the entire region, it’s just not going to work any other way,” Rareshide said of economic development offices.

Although he stopped short of calling for one economic development office for the entire region, he did say those offices for the Cape, Lee County and others in Southwest Florida need to work together to encourage businesses to come to the area.

City Manager Terry Stewart, who will take over Michael Jackson’s role as director of the Cape’s economic development office when Jackson retires at the end of the year, said the city already collaborates with the county’s economic development office, but he will work to strengthen relations.

“We work very closely with them now, what we’ll do is reinforce that,” Stewart said.

Rareshide listed several strengths and weaknesses in Cape Coral’s ability to attract new industries to the area. Among the strengths are its population of 160,000, its relative low cost of doing business and its above average standard quality of life and amenities. Weaknesses include the risk of hurricanes, a national perception of the city as a tourism and retirement community, and its limited office space.

Rareshide said the lack of office space is the main factor holding the Cape back.

“That’s going to be one of the biggest limitations. I’ve never seen a corporate real estate community with this little office space in the entire country,” Rareshide said.

Ron Starner, general manager of Site Selection Magazine, an international corporate real estate publication, also spoke at the workshop and outlined what businesses look for in a community when they consider relocation.

The cost of business operations, the availability, cost and skill level of labor, cost of living, taxes, incentives and building costs are all factors in decisions to relocate.

“Anything that has a cost element to it, they are going to want to know that cost to the nearest dime,” Starner said.

Starner was upbeat about the economic outlook for the Cape despite current struggles.

“I know there’s been some setbacks with the housing correction, but the fundamentals are still strong,” he said.

Stewart said he will push for improvements in the Cape’s ability to attract new industries and businesses.

“We are not only going to work on our weaknesses, we’re going to work on our strengths,” Stewart said.