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February 14, 2017

1st Economic Almanac examines region in detail

It has everything – or close to it — that you’d ever want to know about the regional economy.

That’s the goal of the just-released 2017 Southwest Florida Economic Almanac, a 365-page publication of Florida Gulf Coast University’s Regional Economic Research Institute (RERI).

“It turned out to be a much bigger deal than we expected a year ago,” said RERI Director Christopher Westley. “Back then, our goal was to produce an annual supplement to our popular monthly publication, Regional Economic Indicators.”

But the need for a comprehensive almanac for the region became obvious once Westley started talking about the project with area business and community leaders. “It turns out that the RERI collects and uses lots of useful information that traditionally does not see the light of day, he said. “The idea was for a publication that would make this information available to the public in a format that could be updated annually.”

The almanac is divided into sections covering socio-economics, agriculture, health, education, housing, income and finance, charitable giving, government spending and assistance, real estate, and many others. There is even a section on innovation that measures patents, computer and Internet access, and an innovation index.

Data primarily focuses on the five-county region encompassing Southwest Florida: Charlotte, Collier, Glades, Hendry and Lee counties.

“The idea is for a resource that would prove invaluable to anyone researching our area, whether it’s an out-of-state firm investigating our market, a law office working on a case, a member of the media working on a story or even a middle-school student completing a report,” Westley said.

The almanac is packed with interesting tidbits. Who knew, for instance, that charitable giving in Southwest Florida surpassed $1 billion in 2012, the last year this data was collected? A sampling of other statistics:

  • There is an almost 3-to-2 ratio of men to women in Glades County for the population aged 45 and younger, significantly higher than the ratio in the rest of Southwest Florida.
  • More than 2,000 farms cover more than 1 million acres of land.
  • The region’s population has topped 1.2 million, with Lee County alone accounting for more than half of that number.
  • More than 1.4-million tons of municipal solid waste was generated in 2015, 38 percent more than in 2011.

“It really has every piece of data that you’d expect to find in an almanac,” Westley said.  “But I expect even more detail to be added in years to come.”

“The Southwest Florida Economic Development Alliance was a sponsor for the almanac, and Westley is soliciting additional support for the inaugural edition and for the 2018 edition.  Since the RERI is financed through projects such as this, these funds will be put toward the eventual creation of an online portal for the almanac, allowing users to download data. Westley thinks this portal can become a reality in two years.

Until then, the Southwest Florida Economic Almanac can be read online.