Confidence high for economy in 2018
Whether it be jobs, housing or the general economy, things are again looking up for Cape Coral as 2018 gets started.
Area economic leaders forecast another strong year, anchored by a strong housing market, new economic projects in the works, and a jobs picture that aims at high-paying, in-need jobs, such as medical and trades, as long-term goals.
The city has gotten much positive press in recent years and it is beginning to show at a local, state and national level.
Dana Brunett, Economic Development director for the city, said there are several projects in progress now helping to buttress the economy locally.
“We have three new car dealerships coming on Pine Island Road which is an indicator of growth, and we’re working with existing businesses on expansion and creating more jobs,” Brunett said. “We’re also getting outside interest from businesses inquiring about Southwest Florida.”
Liberty Village assisted living facility is currently going up with its 320 apartments, which will increase affordable housing and, in turn, increase the workforce and keeps it in Cape Coral rather than “across the bridge.”
Brunett said the signs are there for a strong economy, including the increase in interest rates. Still, people are looking to invest money as signs continue to point in the right direction.
Locally, the Utilities Expansion Project is moving forward in the northwest Cape, bringing the opportunity of business expansion north of Pine Island Road, which is currently almost non-existent with the lack of infrastructure and homes.
“With more houses, more commercial development will follow. Not having utilities on Pine Island Road hampers the commercial development, and that going in will help us greatly,” Brunett said.
One thing that did hamper Lee County was Hurricane Irma, which pounded the area in September, leaving some areas without power for a week or more.
Pamela Johnson, interim director of Lee County’s Economic Development Office, said in an e-mail it is believed by some that the area still has not fully recovered.
“Perception continues to be a challenge in the aftermath of Irma. Getting the message out to everyone that Lee County is thriving post Irma is a goal. We have had a proactive public relations and marketing campaign through our Visitor & Convention Bureau and an effort via Economic Development Office – to ensure everyone knows we are open for business,” Johnson said.
The employment situation is very strong, Brunett said, with retail and hospitality being the bread and butter of the economy here in Southwest Florida.
Where Cape Coral is lacking is in the category of skilled labor, especially in housing, where the lack of plumbers, electricians and carpenters has slowed the progress in that area.
“Like everyone, with unemployment so low, finding skilled labor continues to be a challenge in our community,” said Johnson in an e-mail.
“There are a lot of industries seeking skilled workers. It will take time, but there are things being addressed,” Brunett said. “We really want to put a focus on the trades because there are a lot of decent paying jobs available if people can get the basic skills. We are well aware there is a void there and trying to bridge the gap.”
Brunett said while the focus has been on getting kids into college, the vast majority do not, so they need to know there are other avenues and the trades are an excellent way to do it.
The Mayor’s Scholarship Foundation is even sponsoring a trades scholarship for the first time to help create that awareness, Brunett said.
“Some people are smart in the mind and others are smart with their fingers. You want them to go into the right areas and flourish,” Brunett said.
There is also a lack of workers in the medical field, such as nurses, and with the area becoming more populated with older people, this is a real problem, Brunett said.
Ultimately, Brunett said it’s about bringing in companies that offer high-paying jobs, and health care is the way to get there.
“Medical is the low-hanging fruit, with older people coming, that will be the major focus and we want to take advantage,” Brunett said.
Real estate and housing
The housing and real estate markets have continued to post steady gains since the recovery from the Great Recession began. Home values have continued to increase as the inventory of existing homes has shrunk and construction has increased once again.
Bill Johnson, Jr., executive director of the Cape Coral Construction Industry Association, said he expects the slow, steady improvement to continue this year, and maybe longer if conditions hold.
“It’s been a steady growth, not too fast. When I came in 2014 the city issued 561 building permits. We issued 1,660 permits in 2017,” said Johnson. “I can see levels near 2,000 in 2018, which is good for a city our size.”
The single-family residential market continues to be the cog in the wheel, outpacing commercial, though that segment is starting to make waves as inventory there has also shrunk.
“Inventory is very low and demand is high, and there is confidence in the market. Homebuilders and buyers have confidence now,” said Ed Ramos, president of the CCCIA. “I don’t see a bubble anytime soon. We have a thirst for product and there isn’t enough inventory.”
Only the aforementioned lack of qualified help has been able to delay projects, as their numbers aren’t where they should be, Ramos and Johnson agreed.
In real estate, the market is also holding its own, according to Gloria Tate of Raso Realty, with the bigger gains coming from waterfront properties, especially new construction.
“It seems as if where water and sewer went in there is a plethora of new building happening that has spurred the market,” Tate said. “That makes the older homes come into value because they have ability to remodel and put those on the market.”
Tate said inventory is tighter than it’s been for years, with higher-end homes especially such and others spending little time available before being gobbled up.
That trend is expected to continue.
“I believe Cape Coral has come in to a very strong season, and with the snow up north coming down, we’re going to have a very exciting year,” Tate said. “People have suggested a bubble, but I don’t see that. There are none of the crazy increases that created that bubble, so I don’t see that this year.”