At our May 28 final luncheon for the season, John Cox, president and CEO of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, spoke to the Press Club of Southwest Florida members and guests about how he visualizes the new “Opportunity Naples” initiative will strengthen the economic health of the Naples-area community. “Our mission is to promote Collier County as the best place to live and work,” he said.
“Naples is the brand,” Cox said, “which is why our initiative is named ‘Opportunity Naples.’” Cox pointed out that newspapers all over the country write about what is going on in Naples, reporting economic news such as the recent sale of La Playa Resort and Beach Club, the recent sale of Mercato Shopping Center and the $80 million 22-story luxury high-rise condo building, Mystique, soon to be developed in Pelican Bay. “There is clearly money in the global economy,” Cox said, “and people from around the world want to buy a piece of Naples—and now is the time to do it.”
“The most important mission for Opportunity Naples,” Cox said, “is to create good-paying jobs. We want to create economic opportunity for every person in Naples. Forty percent of our children live in poverty in Collier County, and 86 languages are spoken in the school system. We import labor every day, from out of the country and from Lee County, and we export labor every day to Lee County where our residents can find better-paying jobs.”
Cox looks for, finds and talks with companies interested in relocating to Collier County. He said that he looks for companies who do business or want to do business with companies already located in Collier County, like Arthrex. He looks for innovative companies, like ones that make 3-D prints. He looks for small companies that will have the opportunity to grow, and for companies that will pay higher wages for higher skills.
“It’s a problem when we lose our best and brightest young people because of a lack of good-paying jobs in Collier County,” Cox said. “If NPC Scholarship student, Ellie Rushing, who is graduating from Naples High School this spring and will be attending Rollins College in the fall, decides to come back to Naples when she is in her mid-20s, where is she going to work and where is she going to live?”
“The Naples/Fort Myers market is the sixth-worst market in the USA for jobs,” said Cox, “particularly, good-paying jobs. All of our young people do not need to go to college to be able to get a good-paying job, but they do need credentials and certificates. Bricklayers, for example, make really good money. Jobs are coming back to our area, but they are paying about 20 percent less than before the Great Recession.”
“We need to increase wages in Collier County,” Cox said. He reported that 33 cents of every dollar is actual wages in Collier County. The rest is personal wealth. “And, that’s what makes Naples unique,” he said. “But when our residents die, most of them are not buried in Naples. Their wealth goes with them, to their families and their chosen charities.”
Cox also reported that Florida leads the nation in self-employment. “A high percentage of Collier County residents work from home, but they earn lower wages than any county around us.”
Q&A: One NPC member said that media-related companies would be another good choice for Collier County because they are environmentally low impact and they would attract younger workers.
Another NPC member was concerned about apathetic attitudes, about whether or not the rich in Naples cared about the poor. Another person pointed out that the current, forward-thinking viewpoint is that there is a great deal of philanthropic support in the greater Naples area.
A Naples business leader asked what is being done to attract and support small businesses; he pointed out that when a small business closes down, 5-15 jobs are lost. Cox answered that Operation Naples’s primary focus is to keep current businesses strong and open. Cox pointed out that there is plenty of space for retail, but that commercial space is limited in the Naples area and is very expensive. He also said Collier County Impact Fees are the highest in North America, 30 percent higher than in Nashville, Tennessee, for example.
NPC President Carole Greene asked, “What can NPC do to help?” Cox answered, “We have to tell the story.”