The Future

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Those who have lived in Southwest Florida for any stretch of time know that its landscape—business, economic and physical—changes quickly, thanks to the constant population growth.

Those once-empty parcels become a commercial or residential site where buildings rapidly arise. New ventures start up, and companies and services expand to meet the needs of the new residents.

And now with the local economy humming, all of the aforementioned trends are on a quicker pace, which keeps executives and planners on their toes, preparing five, 10 or 20 years in the future. So, what might that look like?

Gulfshore Business thought it would be informative to gather prognostications for the coming decades.

A team of writers sought predictions from experts in an array of industries, including health care, higher education, agriculture, development and technology. The results are both interesting and innovative, and for the most part, positive.

Moreover, the projections provide a chance for entrepreneurs and small business to plan and achieve success.
 For example, with baby boomers expected to continue retiring here in increasing numbers for the next three decades, there is a wealth of possibilities, says Christopher Westley, the director of the Regional Economic Research Institute and professor of economics at FGCU’s Lutgert College.

 opens the door
for a lot of things that
retirees demand,” he says. “The economy is recovering and a lot of people are moving down here, which reflects more job opportunities.”

Of course, progress can be disrupted when unforeseen events rear their heads, such as when the recent banking and housing crisis sent the economy into a tailspin, or when 9-11 attacks and the BP oil spill hit our local tourism market.

But some forethought might help minimize downturns.

The most effective way to keep the economy on a positive bearing, for instance, is by pairing recent retirees with entrepreneurial young people. Communities that combine youthful thinking with wise mentors and potential investors should thrive, says Jerry Parrish, chief economist and director of research for the Florida Chamber Foundation.
“The people who do that and keep the resultant businesses in their community are going to win the economic development game,” Parrish says. “That’s the most important thing, I think, in the state.”

Its importance is part of what is stressed in an innovation caucus in which Parrish takes part. Tabs are kept on new companies developing unique products. And those innovative companies, buoyed by no state income tax, benefit from a strong incubator system and those experienced enough to grow and scale them.

“Let’s keep it here … instead of it heading to Silicon Valley,” he says. “The way to the  future is to build companies in Florida and keep  them here.”

Among the revelations by our regional experts:

• How agriculture will deal with diseases including greening and a potential labor shortage as its

acreage increases.

• The role of telemedicine and a focus on healthy lifestyle choices by patients may be impacted by an expected physician shortage.

• How regional higher education institutions remain foreceful through improved on-campus facilities, distance learning options and conferring technical degrees.

And there’s much more.

Please read on to find out what those in the know are predicting.

—Steve Heisler and Phil Borchmann 


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