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Cape Coral-Fort Myers: Local ‘metro’ No. 6 in U.S. in growth

By Staff | Mar 27, 2015

The Cape Coral/Fort Myers metro area, which several years ago was ground zero for one of the worst housing collapses in history, is apparently recovering nicely.

New data released from the U.S. Census Bureau shows that Cape Coral/Fort Myers is the sixth fastest growing metro area in the nation, with an estimated population increase of 18,000 people between 2013 and 2014.

And that means “happy dance” time for city leaders, the construction industry and the economic climate of the area, even if the news wasn’t exactly unexpected.

“It just solidifies what the city council has seen the last three to four years. We have a great economic team that keeps pushing our commercial and residential base and it’s amazing we can be recognized for that,” Cape Coral Councilmember Richard Leon said.

Cape Coral/Fort Myers was one of six metro areas in Florida among the 20 fastest growing, which include The Villages, which was the fastest growing area in the U.S., Naples (10th), Orlando (16th), Sarasota/ Bradenton (18th) and Panama City (19th).

The beautiful weather and beaches seem to be drawing more people to the area, with Florida climbing the ranks of most populous states, becoming the nation’s third most-populous state in December, taking over the spot once held by New York.

The news was good news to many.

Bill Johnson, executive director of the Cape Coral Construction Industry Association, said the news is further proof that Cape Coral is far better off than it was a few years ago.

“It’s a testament to how Cape Coral is recovering and I look forward to continued growth,” Johnson said. “We’re seeing an increase in single-family home permits. People are building more homes and with more people come more jobs. We’re seeing the growth month after month.”

Johnson said commercial development has continued to lag, but that tends to do so by 12 to 18 months from housing. He said he expects that to spike as more people come to town.

With more people coming to Lee County come more opportunities for Cape Coral to bring in higher-paying jobs and businesses. Economic Development Director Dana Brunett said the increased growth could make his job a little easier.

“Southwest Florida is a hot place to be, pardon the pun. We’re starting to see more commercial development, not nearly as much as we need, but we’re seeing good indications,” Brunett said. “It’s nice to be on the Top 10 list because its free advertising, but it reaffirms what we already knew.”

Brunett said Cape Coral is a desirable location but it all comes down to workforce and the ability for companies to hire local people for a certain type of job rather than recruit from elsewhere.

“I want to make sure jobs created are for local residents. We’ve made a shift toward recruiting those higher paying, light industrial tech jobs because we have people who qualify for them,” Brunett said.

The influx of new people means local government has to account for them in terms of providing services, and making sure Burnett and others have the tools to market Cape Coral as a place to live, work and play.

“As a council we have to be cognizant of that fact and work with other municipalities, make sure there’s enough water and continue our partnerships with other governing bodies,” Leon said.

After many down years, the new data is further evidence that the area is recovering and that growth should be the buzzword in Lee County for the foreseeable future.

“I could not be happier that this report came out. I’m glad we’re creating jobs for the building industry, and we look forward to keep heading in the right direction,” Johnson said.

“It’s always nice to see we’re growing and more people are coming because it makes it easier for businesses to make that decision,” Brunett said.