What’s the future of Immokalee’s economy? Researchers at Florida Gulf Coast University are on a mission to answer that question with a new survey targeting business owners and executives. Collectively, the initial respondents have an optimistic outlook when it comes to doing business in the Collier County community.
“The survey portion is the most important part of the publication, in my opinion,” said Christopher Westley, director of FGCU’s Regional Economic Research Institute in the Lutgert College of Business. “To gauge the future of a given economy, you start with the sentiments of the people who have vested interests in its success.”
In recent years, the largely Hispanic community has faced citrus greening, a lack of capital investment and costs associated with Hurricane Irma. Nevertheless, 71 percent of survey respondents said they expected improved industry conditions within a year. They also indicate having little problem finding qualified workers for openings.
With respect to questions regarding the creation of an Immokalee city government, the business community was split. Forty-eight percent of executives believe that incorporation is very or somewhat important for Immokalee, while 39 percent believe it is unimportant. Roughly two-thirds of the people surveyed are also concerned about excessive costs related to change.
When asked what the benefits were from Immokalee incorporating, one respondent said, “A more uniform city, a city that has formal representation and can unite its community for a better Immokalee.”
Others often cited cost as the prohibiting factor for incorporation.
“There is cost and time that you cannot avoid with this type of change,” a respondent wrote. “People will get discouraged easily with the process if the plan is not laid out for the community ahead of time.”
To be sure, the demographic findings point to a struggling community. Per capita incomes are less than half of those recorded for Collier County as a whole. Agriculture dominates economic activity, resulting in a seasonal and low-paid workforce.
“Agriculture is Immokalee’s comparative advantage. This is a blessing, but it means that general worker productivity will be different there than it is in a region dominated by, say, medical device manufacturing,” Westley said.
“Capital will attract the type of labor necessary for it to be most productive. Agricultural capital investment tends to attract lower-skilled labor relative to other types of capital. This explains, at least in part, differences in educational attainment. But it also points to benefits for Immokalee if it can attract other types of capital over time,” he concluded.
Westley also noted only 31 Immokalee business leaders participated in the survey. The lack of participation creates a 10 percent margin of error. Even so, he hopes the initial report will serve as a baseline for future studies.
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