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Collier County residents, business owners and business experts say bringing better jobs to the area should be the county’s No. 4 concern, followed by workforce training.

Concerns over better jobs have lessened from 39% to 32% since the 2018 Collier County Community Assessment, while the need for workforce training (and better public education) increased from 22% to 24%. Focus group participants cited numerous challenges in starting a small business here, such as the high cost and navigating government policies. They also said childcare is needed to maintain their jobs, but the demand is high and availability is low.

They also said long commutes to jobs and lack of childcare options were barriers to economic opportunities and employment, while the cost of living and inflation make economic growth and security difficult. As a result, they said the county needs to invest more in workforce development, in job opportunities for young people, in technical and vocational skills programs and in restaurant workers.

“There is no mistaking that this community is a highly desirable place to live, as evidenced by the significant number of people relocating to Collier County,” said Kristina Park, president of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce. “As this strong and reputable community evaluates how it desires to grow into the future, there are many critical components to ensure smart growth and balance.”

Park said overall economic opportunity is sustainable if necessary infrastructure resources are available, such as a skilled workforce and the quality-of-life factors they need to live near where they work. “Access to attainable housing, childcare, quali- ty early education and career and technical training rank at the top of this list,” she added.

The community assessment, conducted every five years by Q-Q Research Consultants Inc. for the Richard M. Schulze Family Foundation and Community Foundation of Collier County, provides a blueprint for county commissioners, government officials, experts, civic groups and others to determine the county’s future needs. Survey takers and focus groups were asked to select three top areas to help community leaders prioritize for the future; affordable housing topped the list, followed by managing growth and development and No. 3, the environment.

Focus group participants, including education experts, said the county needs to increase vocational education and training to fill employment gaps in trades. The county’s technical schools—Lorenzo Walker Technical College, Immokalee Technical College (iTech) in Immokalee and CME, the Center for Manufacturing Excellence in Golden Gate—offer numerous career choices, and iTech has even expanded to Glades County.

In 2022, iTech Glades opened as part of an agreement by Collier County Public Schools and the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity to fund its opening and operation for five years. It’s Florida’s first technical college to be operated by a school board outside its county borders.

For years, Collier County has worked with the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce to lure businesses to the area or encourage expansion. That’s resulted in hefty county incentives that led to the growth of Arthrex, which has campuses in North Naples and Ave Maria. It’s also led to other businesses expanding, such as Azimuth Technology, or moving to the area.

Since moving to Naples in 1991, Arthrex has grown into one of the world’s largest medical manufacturers, employing more than 6,000 people internationally and 3,000 in Southwest Florida.

To diversify the economy and boost economic development, Collier County created three Innovation Zones in Ave Maria, North Naples and Golden Gate to lure businesses, headquarters and manufacturing plants. Ave Maria’s zone is home to Arthrex’s manufacturing plant; the zone has generated about $185,900 in taxes yearly since its inception in 2010 and those taxes can be used for incentives.

It will soon be home to international glass company Dialum, as well. Last August, county commissioners approved $1.5 million in incentives to attract the Chilean glass manufacturer, which has many U.S. customers, to Ave Maria, where it will build a $20 million plant as its U.S. headquarters, and employ 80-100 workers.

For small businesses starting out, Venture X, Synergy Suites and its Synergy Medical Suites, Regus and others offer affordable spaces. And aspiring chefs and food businesses can operate out of the county’s Culinary Accelerator @ Immokalee and others, such as the Commercial Kitchen of Naples.

The county also has made great strides to add more affordable housing, which is key to attracting and retaining workers. The county’s Affordable Housing Advisory Committee, the county Housing Policy & Economic Development and Growth Management Community Development divisions and the new nonprofit Housing Alliance are encouraging developers to build affordable housing here, identifying gaps and where units are open so residents, businesses and workers can stay apprised.

Since 2017, there have been more than 4,500 affordable units committed in Collier County, about 23.7% of all developments, according to Housing Policy & Economic Development Director Cormac Giblin, who added, however, that some won’t be built for 10 years.

The Naples Press asked business experts for their views on the concerns cited in the Collier County Community Assessment and what can be done.

Kristina Park

President, Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce

Kristina Park

The Chamber’s Business & Economic Research office continues to collaborate with many alliances, including local, regional, state and utility partners, to actively bring better- paying employment opportunities to the area. Among many criteria, one of the most important is to determine if a potential business may be a good fit. What makes economic development so important is that we understand what fits into our community and will be mutually beneficial for residents, workers and business owners. The county is actively working to put in place zoning overlays to promote redevelopment, promote innovation zones and target companies that are generally a fit for the area—a prime example is Golden Gate City (a 4-square-mile area bordered by Golden Gate Parkway, Green Boulevard, Santa Barbara Boulevard and Collier Boulevard).

The chamber also collaborates with the county’s office of Housing Policy & Economic Development to market our community and communicate the opportunities to position Collier County as a desirable location for businesses.

Collectively, the new Great Wolf Lodge and Dialum projects, and the AZT (Azimuth) Technology expansion project, will invest $276 million into the county and employ 730 workers.

We supported fully funding workforce education programs provided by the state technical college system, including Lorenzo Walker Technical College (LWTC) and Immokalee Technical College (iTech.) Our office of Talent Initiatives is actively engaged with the business community regarding their workforce needs. This link between employers and educators helps inform the development of relevant workforce training programs, and technical training programs administered through our schools including LWTC, iTech and CME—the Center for Manufacturing Excellence.

The office also works with leaders of FGCU, FSW and Collier County Public Schools to provide students work-based learning opportunities, including mentorships, career shadowing and internships with local businesses.

We supported Collier County’s decision to allocate $15 million of the sales surtax revenue collected to acquire or construct a career and technical education facility. The new technical training center will house skilled-trade programs from both Immokalee Technical College and Lorenzo Walker Technical College. This partnership and this facility will not only expand current training programs, but introduce new programs to meet industry needs in our community. Skilled trades are not only essential to our community but offer an opportunity for high wage jobs with minimal student loan debt.

And we will continue to support legislation that expands, encourages and incentivizes work-based learning opportunities, including career and technical training, internships, apprenticeships and post-secondary education.

During the pandemic of 2020, more than 20 childcare facilities closed in Collier County. The lack of affordable early childhood education/ childcare support impacts Collier’s workforce. Therefore, the Greater Naples Chamber supports expanding access to high-quality, affordable childcare options in Southwest Florida and across the state.

We support initiatives that incentivize childcare providers to offer infant care and non-traditional hours to meet the needs of employees. And we support initiatives that encourage, promote and incentivize athome providers to become registered childcare providers.

Scott Lee

Community Engagement Coordinator, Lorenzo Walker Technical College

Scott Lee

Collier County Public Schools operates multiple technical colleges in Collier County: LWTC in Naples, iTech in Immokalee and the Center for Manufacturing Excellence in Golden Gate City collectively serve well over 1,000 students each year. LWTC, iTech and CME offer over 30 different career and technical programs to help meet the needs of educating and preparing the workforce that is needed in Collier County.

These programs include automotive service technology, aviation mechanics, dental assisting, nursing, cosmetology, practical nursing, professional culinary arts, welding technology, HVAC, drafting and many others. Almost all of these programs can be completed in a year or less.

Our programs prepare students for higher-than-average-wage career opportunities, including some that start at more than $60,000 a year. Most students qualify for financial aid, and none of our students take on student loans that need to be paid back.

The combination of the ability to earn higher than average wages coupled with being student loan debtfree sets these graduates up to successfully start careers and families right here in Collier County.

Peg Elmore

President and CEO, Career Source Southwest Florida

Peg Elmore

Collier County’s December 2023 unemployment rate was 2.8%, which corresponds to the 70% of survey respondents who agree they have access to employment opportunities. The 2023 survey responses compared to the previous study indicate a lessening importance for bringing better paying jobs to the area. In fact, only 16% indicated they were dissatisfied with access to employment opportunities, which may be a result of either a highly specialized occupation, or for part of Collier County, geographic accessibility.

Collier County’s projections for the industries gaining the most new jobs include specialty-trade contractors, ambulatory health care services and professional and technical services in the top four. Although “Food Services” and “Drinking Places” are projected to see the most growth, the other industries are noteworthy for paying a higher wage.

With slightly more than a quarter of respondents indicating they were dissatisfied with workforce training, CareerSource Southwest Florida has formed a consortium to identify gaps in post-secondary education compared to projected occupational growth. The results of their work will be used to ensure training aligns with business needs and the workforce has the skills needed to earn a self-sufficient wage.

In regard to the employment gap in the trades, there are multiple paths to skill development. Apprenticeships and on-the-job training allow workers to earn while they learn. There is an unmet need to provide construction trade instruction in Spanish and other languages and to combine that training with English for Speakers of Other Languages training. The longstanding challenge of interesting young people and their parents into exploring trade occupations remains.

We are experiencing rapid growth and expansion in all business sectors for many reasons: state leadership is very supportive; low tax structure, no income tax, low corporate tax; infrastructure; quality of life; and the area attracts quality workforce and talent.

CareerSource Southwest Florida works closely with existing and new businesses to assist with all aspects of workforce needs and development. It assists with providing trained talent through job-matching and apprenticeship programs (on-the-job training) for individuals who need to enhance or gain the necessary skills. It provides businesses with funds to help offset the cost of hiring new employees who need training through our on-the-job training program.

Our close relationship with educational partners helps to identify in-demand programs needed from micro-credentialing to four-year post-secondary training programs. CareerSource funds those needing financial assistance to enhance their skills through classroom or on-thejob training.

CareerSource also provides workforce/ labor statistics to businesses, from projected demand to wage information; helps businesses to think out of the box on ways to attract and retain new generations; provides job assistance to relocated spouses as part of a recruitment package; holds job fairs and hiring events for businesses; and helps promote business hiring needs via our social media network.

As far as cost of living is concerned, our goal is to help people receive the training they need to grow in their profession and in turn, become self-sufficient and able to comfortably support their families. We have programs to assist customers with transportation and childcare needs while they are enrolled in our programs to help them reach a self-sustainable level as quickly as possible so they no longer need these supportive services. We also work closely with area agencies to refer customers for help with these needs.

Kathryn Parker

Director of Sales, Venture X

Kathryn Parker

Venture X has a range of flexible offerings, including individual memberships giving access to our community space, one-person offices to 10-person team suites and a wide variety in between to meet the needs of our companies. This allows us to reach different scopes of businesses, whether they are just starting out or an established business.

We have been able to reach connections with local individuals to international corporations. Because of our offerings, we believe our memberships provide businesses room to grow and expand within our community. Our community membership starts at $40 per month, and one-person offices currently start at $975 per month.

The difference in our offerings comes down to our inclusions and the inspiring-modern environment. When you sign up, there are no additional costs for extras, such as utilities, internet, cleaning, parking, onsite staff and more. The environment promotes bringing the outdoors in with floor-to-ceiling windows and live plants throughout. This provides the professionals within Naples a healthy space to focus and excel.

Memberships include access to our kitchen and cafe stocked with locally sourced coffee and kombucha, monthly networking and wellness events, credits to use per month toward our fully equipped conference rooms; a soft seating studio for six people, traditional conference rooms holding up to 12 people, a unique training room for up to 30 people and a one-of-a-kind podcast studio for four.

The networking and community access within Venture X has allowed many individuals and teams to make connections. It has brought them together under one roof, where business minds are able to have organic conversations and create growth together.

This story was published March 29 in The Naples Press.

Copyright 2024 Gulfshore Life Media, LLC All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without prior written consent.

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