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Jobs incentive cash flowing; Cape hoping for bigger share

By Staff | Jan 15, 2011

Lee County has approved more than $13.7 million in nearly two years to help foster economic development, but none of the publicized large-scale projects will create jobs within Cape Coral.
Cape officials, who have a number of local initiatives under way, are hoping changes within the city will swing that balance in the future.
Since April 2009, the county has awarded $13,769,300 in incentive funds to new and existing businesses to produce new high-wage, high-skill jobs. The 16 projects, six of which remain unannounced, are expected to create a total of 1,816 jobs over the next three to four years.
The economic impact is estimated at approximately $575.14 million, figures county officials say are signs of economic development success.
“We feel that even in these economic times, pursuing businesses the way that we are, we can make a difference,” Jim Moore, the director of the Fort Myers Regional Partnership, said Friday.
He spoke before a group of business leaders at a meeting in the Cape.
“There is room for success,” Moore said. “We do have activity in our office.”
According to documents from the Fort Myers Regional Partnership, which serves as the county’s Economic Development Office, the 10 projects that have been made public involve establishing new headquarters or facilities or consist of expanding existing offices or operations.
Nine of the projects are in Fort Myers. One involves Bonita Springs.
The six still-confidential projects could be anywhere, including Cape Coral.
The company that received the largest incentive payout is Algenol Biofuels. Algenol was awarded $10 million to open a new facility in Fort Myers to house laboratories, operations and 40 acres of land. The company later announced plans to build a bio-refinery adjacent to the recently opened laboratories.
Algenol is expected to create 108 jobs, with a $123 million impact.
The $10 million approved by the county was taken out of $25 million in reserves earmarked for economic development. Funding for a project also can come from the county through the Qualified Tax Incentive program. In the program, the county pays a portion and the state covers the rest.
About $4.1 million in state funds have gone to eight of the 16 projects.
Source Interlink Companies, which received the second largest incentive payout from the county, is expected to create the most number of jobs at 350. The company planned to consolidate positions from other locations to its Bonita Springs headquarters, an economic impact near $134.2 million.
According to the latest figures from the state, Lee County’s unemployment rate was 13.3 percent in November. That is an increase over October, which stood at 12.9 percent, and a tiny dip from the year before at 13.4 percent.
The county ranked 13th statewide for the highest unemployment rank in November, and Cape Coral-Fort Myers came in fifth among the metropolitan areas. Nationally, the number of jobs were up by 0.6 percent over the year.
City officials concede there have been some challenges to major development here.
Cape Councilmember Marty McClain explained that land use classifications have been a big barrier to economic development in the city. Until recent changes by the city council, the Cape only had a small number of plats that were large enough to lend themselves to large-scale commercial development.
“It was an obstacle, without a question,” he said.
Meanwhile, the city has seen jobs created through countywide development efforts, although on a smaller scale.
Between 1999 and 2010, the county economic development and expansion projects in the Cape totaled 18. There were 364 direct jobs and 294 indirect jobs created overall, with a total economic impact of about $36.55 million.
Those job figures did not catch the city manager’s attention Friday.
“Let’s find a way to make those numbers bigger and better,” Gary King said.
He added that he wants to focus on moving forward and continue building on the partnership between the city and the Fort Myers Regional Partnership.
Moore said city and county officials have been working together.
“I’d characterize the relationship with the Cape as one of increasing involvement,” he said. “Cape Coral is represented better than any other recognized geographic community.”
Moore said county staff has been developing new business prospects by identifying business owners with ties to Lee County then engaging them in talks about relocating their company or expanding their business to Lee.
“That has been the thrust of our marketing efforts,” he said, adding that the strategy has gotten results.
King said he recently spoke at a meeting and expressed a similar message — focus on existing businesses and the connections that those people know. He added that Cape Coral has limited resources and had to use what is available.
“Find a way to leverage and exploit these resources,” he said.