Southwest Florida developers, economists and business leaders are angling to attract new high-tech ventures to the region over the next five years, but their success will depend partly on whether the workforce is talented enough to compete globally.
Experts are predicting slow but steady growth during the next decade in technology-related fields. To give a couple of examples, the number of software developers in Lee and Collier counties is expected to grow from approximately 700 to 857 by 2022, according to the Florida Research and Economic Information Database. There are about 527 computer networking architects in the two counties now; that should grow it more than 640. But forecasts can’t predict things like, say, the relocation of a major corporate headquarters.
“Can you say Hertz?” says Wilson Bradshaw, president of Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU).
Bradshaw and others say higher education is key to attracting employers. “We are very much a part of regional economic development,” he said. His counterpart at Florida SouthWestern State College (FSW), Jeff Allbritten, says he spoke by phone with the Hertz CEO while the county was wooing the company.
We will never be like Silicon Valley, but other locales have carved out comfortable niches, such as Seattle and Austin, Texas. In some ways, Southwest Florida is quietly growing a tech hub of its own.
“There are a lot of, unknown to people, independent software companies,” says Marc Farron, president of the board of the Southwest Florida Regional Technology Partnership Foundation. “A lot of them are not big, but a lot of them do big stuff.”
He means companies like Cybersecurity Defense Solutions, located in Fort Myers, and Horizon Business Services. The latter, based in Naples, provides catering and event planning software to clients including Marriott, Ruth’s Chris Steak House and Outback Steakhouse.
Perhaps the most promising public-private project at the moment is the Innovation Hub at FGCU. Builders are now working on the 25,000-square-foot Emergent Technologies Institute, a research park primarily for the development of renewable energy solutions, mainly solar.
“We are working hard to make the Emergent Technologies Institute a magnet for other types of research and development that are related not just to tech and renewable energy but to general advances in technology,” Bradshaw says.