Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Lee County rebrands economic development

It's Fort Myers Regional Partnership

BY LAURA RUANE • lruane@news-press.com

The drive to diversify Lee County's economy is working, and soon will fly under a new flag: the Fort Myers Regional Partnership.

"Where's Lee County? It's in Florida, Virginia, Georgia - it's all over," said Jim Moore, county economic development director.

Fort Myers is the name more people living outside the region recognize, Moore said. He touched on economic development rebranding during his talk Thursday at the monthly luncheon meeting of the Greater Fort Myers Chamber of Commerce.

About 115 business people attended the luncheon meeting at Crowne Plaza in south Fort Myers.

In the city of Cape Coral, the new brand initially drew concern, said Mike Quaintance, president of the Cape Coral chamber. After several meetings between city business and community leaders, Quaintance said most people find it "difficult to argue with the logic."

"Name recognition for Fort Myers, obviously, is greater than it is for Cape Coral," Quaintance said. "Once we get (new businesses) here, we'll sort things out."

Quaintance noted a similar development occurred in the county's lifeblood tourism industry. Since 2003, the destination previously marketed as the obscure "Lee Island Coast" has been "The Beaches of Fort Myers & Sanibel" in county bed tax-supported advertisements and promotions.

Tourism promoters showed studies supporting their contention that those two communities had superior name recognition with potential visitors in America and abroad.

Jennifer Berg, spokeswoman for the Lee County Economic Development Office, said the office will be rolling out the new brand over the next several months and the branding will include a listing of other Lee cities in a smaller typeface.

The economic office hired Atlas Advertising of Denver to conduct local and national research about the Lee brand - and has spent about $50,000 with Atlas for research and brand development, Berg said.

At the chamber meeting, Moore also ticked off the major signs that economic development incentives - including the county's $25 million fund - are working. These include contracts with five companies for expansion or relocation that will create about 800 jobs over the next five years.

"The economic benefits are estimated at $365 million," Moore said, adding "there are other opportunities in the pipeline."

He estimated there are 40 or more prospects in that pipeline, and that about 10 companies being wooed could reach a decision within the next 12 months.

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