May 11, 2015

Charlotte County’s economy starting to take off

By: Vicki Parsons - IT


May 1, 2015

By every measurable indicator, Charlotte County’s economy is on the upswing.

Real estate? In the fourth quarter of 2014, the county had the state’s largest increase by percentage in single-home sales with 1,057 homes sold, a 25 percent rise from the previous quarter.

Business growth? So far in 2015, the county has issued 25 commercial building permits, nearly doubling the number handed out in 2014 (13).

Tourism? Passenger traffic at the Punta Gorda Airport jumped 88 percent in 2014 to a record 628,075 passengers and was identified as the fourth-fastest growing airport in the nation.

“A lot of those home sales can be attributed to the presence of the airport,” said Gary Quill, the executive director of the Charlotte County Airport Authority.

So what’s missing? Charlotte has not yet been able to land major corporate headquarters or big regional hubs like its southern neighbors. For example, Lee County is home for Chico’s, WCI, NeoGenomics and others and it will soon have Hertz. Collier has Arthrex and the temporary headquarters of Hertz.

The good news is that the county’s economic officials are actively trying to change that. A 4,000-acre economic enterprise zone around the airport park, designated and approved for light industrial development, will be home to a new distribution center and regional warehouse for food distribution giant Cheney Brothers. The nearly 350,000-square foot facility is on track to be completed this fall and will add more than 300 jobs.

Lucienne Pears, the business recruitment supervisor for Charlotte County, said several other manufacturing companies have expressed interest in the development-friendly airport enterprise zone, which was created in order to help diversify the county’s economy and expand it beyond travel and real estate.

Pears also said the county and Western Michigan University officials are in talks about a satellite campus for its college of aviation in Punta Gorda. Officials have discussed the program being housed at the vacant building once occupied by private IMPAC University business school, as well as space at the Punta Gorda Airport.

“We expect a final decision in the next several months,” she said.

At about that same time — a full decade after West Palm Beach-based Kitson & Partners purchased the land for the Babcock Ranch development — construction is set to begin on the planned community’s utilities and road system, according to company CEO Syd Kitson.

“It’s an exciting time for us,” he said. “We’re putting bids out for contract starting mid-year. We are going to have tens of millions of dollars injected into the economy pretty quickly.”

Kitson said he expects it will take 12-14 months to complete the infrastructure such as water and sewer pipes at Babcock Ranch, which is projected to have 19,500 homes on 18,000 acres.

“As soon as possible after that, we’ll start putting the vertical part of it up,” he said.