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Lutgert College of Business in the News


This is the text and photo from a story in the Fort Myers News-Press of January 16, 2014


Diversity is key for Southwest Florida small business growth
Written by Dick Hogan news-press.com
Jan. 16, 2014

Jackson presentation
Gary Jackson, an asssistant professor of economics at Florida Gulf Coast University, speaks Thursday at a Small Business Resource Network event at the Holiday Inn in Fort Myers. / KINFAY MOROTI/THE NEWS-PRESS

Southwest Florida's economic prospects are good as the recession eases, but a few things need to fall in place to sustain continued improvement, an FGCU economics professor told a gathering of small business owners Thursday evening.

"This area has set the stage to really grow," said Gary Jackson, director of the Regional Economic Research Institute at FGCU, in a presentation to the Southwest Florida Small Business Resource Network at the Fort Myers Airport Holiday Inn. "We want to create the environment for diversification of the economy" so as not to depend on the traditional construction and tourism industries, he said.

That message struck a chord with the audience.

Michael Willis, a certified public accountant in Fort Myers, said that as a lifelong Lee County resident he's seen the havoc a recession wreaks in a boom-or-bust economy with no additional industries such as high tech to soften the blow when the real estate market collapses.

"Until we start diversifying, this is what we'll have," he said. "We need to diversify faster." As the area comes out of the recession, Willis said, he's seeing some clients thrive while others fail.

"It's client by client, year by year," he said. "It's the hardest time we've ever had" to predict what's going to happen next with the economy.

Jackson said every geographic area has to specialize in what it does best, but that doesn't mean Southwest Florida has to be limited forever to what it is now. "The world is changing."

He cited the recent arrival of high-end call center operator Alta Resources, which opened a center in Gateway last fall with 400 jobs and more to come.

The company, based in Neenah, Wis., is leasing a 63,000-square-foot building in Gateway formerly occupied by Gartner Inc., which itself plans to add 400 jobs and a $20 million office building here.

A major factor for Alta in its decision to come here was the large number of college students who are good matches for many of the call center jobs being created, Jackson said.

Barbara Melvin, president of the business resource network and vice president and business development officer for Wells Fargo Bank in Naples, said she's seen the group grow in its seven years as the area comes back economically.

"We see more people coming out" to the meetings, and many are moving from home businesses to lease office or retail space as they expand, she said.


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