Lee County economy: ‘All cylinders are clicking’

Horizon Annual Meeting

April 12, 2023

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The Horizon Council, Horizon Foundation and Lee County Economic Development Office issued a State of the Economy report at the annual meeting showing positive gains across nearly every measurable economic indicator.

The broad overview of Lee County’s economy came after Hurricane Ian’s landfall dealt what could have been a significant setback for the region. Instead, the storm had the opposite impact.

“Our community is stronger than any storm,” said Sanibel Mayor Holly Smith, president of the Horizon Foundation. “We have seen the very best come out across this community.”

Local business leaders presented an overview of key economic indicators showing across-the-board growth from 2021 to 2022:

  • Population: +3.3%
  • Total Employed: +5.1%
  • Median Family Income: +15.7%
  • Number of Businesses: +5.9%
  • Residential Building Permits: +3.4%
  • Sales Tax Collections: +10.0%
  • Bed Tax Collection: +24.7%
  • Airport Passenger Traffic: +0.2%
  • Active Business Licenses: +13.5%

Meanwhile, Lee County’s unemployment rate dropped from 4.2% in 2021 to 2.9% in 2022, and builders completed 1.5 million square feet of commercial space in 2022.

“All cylinders are clicking for Lee County’s economy, and we expect that positive growth to continue into 2023 and beyond,” said Stevens Construction President Mark Stevens, chair of the Horizon Council. “We have an extremely favorable business climate in Lee County, and survey after survey place the region among the 10 most desirable places to live and work in America.”

Four issues were noted as ongoing challenges moving forward: (1) Workforce development; (2) Workforce housing; (3) Business recruitment; and (4) Hurricane recovery.

Also at the Annual Meeting, which was held Feb. 28 at Broadway Palm Dinner Theatre in Fort Myers, four individuals were presented with awards recognizing their commitment to enhancing Lee County’s economy:

  • Brian Hamman received special recognition for his services as the Lee County Board of County Commissioners liaison to the Horizon Council in 2022.
  • Bj Brundage and Russell Schropp were presented The David Barton Legacy Award for their dedicated service as members of the Horizon Council.
  • Dilman Thomas was presented with an award of special recognition for his continued support, guidance and leadership in ensuring that the Horizon Foundation leaves a lasting legacy in Lee County.

Additionally, the three organizations recognized top investors that are supporting Lee County’s economic development activities:

  • Visionary Investors: Industrial Development Authority and Blue Waters Development Group
  • Horizon Investors: Lee Health and Wells Fargo
  • Cornerstone Investors: Bank of America, Comcast/Comcast Business, Cushman & Wakefield, Fifth Third Bank, Henderson Franklin Attorneys at Law, Lake Michigan Credit Union, Regions, Seagate Development Group, Teco and TriCircle Pavers

Leadership succession was announced as Smith was installed as president of the Horizon Foundation, and Stevens was installed as chair of the Horizon Council. Christopher Spiro takes the position of immediate past president and was awarded the coveted “rocking chair.”