More than 300 business and community leaders attended the Horizon Council’s 2016 Annual Meeting on Jan. 29 at Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre in Fort Myers. The event featured the year’s economic development successes and honored the Council’s contributions. This year’s event also included a celebration of the 25th Anniversary of the Horizon Council by recalling the economic progress the County has experienced during the last quarter century.
Commissioner and Chairman of the Lee County Board of County Commissioners (BOCC), Frank Mann, began the landmark anniversary program by presenting some historical Lee County statistics. Since 1991:
- Property values increased by 397 percent
- Population increased by 92 percent, outpacing the state’s population growth by 40 percent
- Average wage increased 103 percent
- Tourist tax revenue increased 481 percent
Mann reminisced back to 1991 when the Horizon Council was formed as an innovative public-private advisory board to the BOCC. The Horizon Council started with only 28 members. Today, it boasts nearly 80 active members, representing all facets of the community, and continues to counsel the BOCC on issues affecting our local economy. Mann praised the Council’s vital role in establishing key initiatives during the past 25 years, such as:
- Creating the Industry Appreciation Awards luncheon to honor exceptional local businesses;
- Establishing the Horizon Foundation to raise private funds to promote the county to prospective companies;
- Initiating the county’s first incentive program to attract and assist companies in relocating or expanding to Lee County;
- Forming various task forces over the years to produce viable solutions to pressing local issues.
John Patrick Boland, the new Director of the Lee County Economic Development Office, presented a few 2015 economic development highlights, including:
- 5,300 new jobs were created;
- Unemployment dropped to 5.1 percent, the lowest in almost 10 years;
- Permits for general commercial structures are up 7.6 percent; and
- 2016 population projections estimate that nearly 1,000 people per month will move to Lee County.
Boland gave an overview of expansion and retention projects the County secured in 2015. Special Coatings USA, First Family Insurance, Paramount Transportation Logistics and Advanced Components International combined to create 400 new jobs and inject almost $20 million into the economy in 2015. Boland praised the collaborative efforts of the Horizon Council and its Horizon Foundation, which resulted in the creation of LEARN, The Lee Entrepreneur’s Assistance Resource Network, which supports new and existing businesses in Southwest Florida. Boland pointed out another example of strong collective efforts with the newly formed Commercial Corridor Revitalization Task Force, which focuses on helping areas that have lagged in the ongoing economic recovery, such as North Fort Myers, Dunbar and Lehigh Acres.
The event featured New York Times best-selling author Diana Kander as the keynote speaker. Kander is a successful entrepreneur, Professor of Entrepreneurship at the University of Missouri, Senior Fellow at the Ewing Marion Kauffman Foundation, Georgetown-educated attorney and the best-selling author of All in Startups. Kander, who serves as an innovation coach to companies and nonprofits, offered the audience her views on innovation in the workplace and how to motivate employees to think like entrepreneurs.
Denis Noah, 2016 Horizon Foundation President, concluded the event with a recap of the Horizon Foundation’s 2015 fundraising efforts. The charitable 501(c)(3) organization was established to provide a funding vehicle for businesses to invest in the long-term economic vitality of Lee County. Noah praised Dennie Hamilton, 2015 Horizon Foundation President, for another record-breaking year. The Foundation raised more than $400,000 in 2015 for economic development efforts and, he noted, has already raised more than $300,000 for 2016. For more information on investment opportunities, contact B. Pat O’Rourke at 239-533-6808, or [email protected].