Business owners bullish on SWFL economy, survey finds

By Justin Martin.


Executives are feeling more confident in about Southwest Florida’s business climate in 2018 according to a new study from Florida Gulf Coast University.

The Executive Business Climate Survey, which was sent to 645 executives and business owners, calculates a climate index number based on the average response to questions about current and future economic conditions. Results showed a 73 percent index for early 2018, a five percent increase over the fourth quarter of 2017. That puts the current index only one point under highest score that has ever been recorded since the survey began in 2012.

“It was the second-highest measure ever recorded for this survey since its inception in 2012,” said Christopher Westley, the director of FGCU’s Regional Economic Research Institute. “The largest measure, a 74, was recorded in 2014, a year when Lee County experienced GDP growth of 5.7 percent.”

The survey measures confidence, not growth, so it remains to be seen how well businesses perform in 2018, but the results are a significant improvement over the last few years of uncertainty. In 2016 the index average stood at only 63.8 percent, while in 2017 it climbed to 67.5.

“We’ll have to see if this first measure for 2018 proves to be sustainable,” Westley said.

Of executives surveyed, 76 percent said that current economic conditions have improved over last year, and 81 percent expect the economy to continue to improve. Employment opportunities seemed to follow this confidence with 50 percent saying they had increased hiring while only eight percent said they had reduced it. In the coming year, 59 percent expect to increase employment at their companies and 37 percent expect to keep it the same.

Affordable housing was one of the barriers to economic growth that the survey focused on when asking executive about the area’s future. 43 percent said that housing costs and attainability affected their ability to recruit and retain workers in Lee County. 46 percent believed that a lack of supply and/or an increase in demand were to blame for the issue. The Fort Myers City Council recently voted to send it’s plans for a revitalization of the Midtown area to Tallahassee. Part of the stated goal of that plan is to find affordable housing solutions.

“The results suggest that while housing attainability is an important issue for Lee County, executives do not consider the situation dire either,” Westley said.  “I’d say their answer to this question would depend on the wages scales associated with their industries.”

While Lee County business leaders may not currently see the affordable housing problem as dire, John Schmieding, Vice-President of one of the area’s biggest employers, Arthrex, told the Collier County Commission in December that a lack of affordable housing was forcing the company to send jobs to other states.

“We simply can’t pretend that our obligation to house individuals is limited to a market focus,” said Schmieding. “As the market drives people in the workforce out of the ability to be housed in the county, companies like Arthrex will be forced to take a piece of the pie somewhere else.”

© 2018 Naples Herald.

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