Support from Lee County’s private sector ensures a thriving business climate for Lee County. With all the work the Horizon Foundation and our investors do to support economic growth in Lee County, it is important for us to have a way to gauge the current business climate to better understand what local business executives’ needs are and how the Horizon Foundation’s work can support that.
Our partners at the Horizon Council and Florida Gulf Coast University (FGCU) have been tracking the Executive Business Climate Index for Lee County since 2012. The index takes on a value between 0 and 100, with 0 meaning the economy is substantially worse and 100 indicating the economy is substantially better.
The climate index comes from information gathered by The Regional Economic Research Institute’s Lee County Executive Business Climate Survey Report. This is a quarterly survey with the goal of capturing the assessment of and expectations for the local economy, the workforce and industry of business owners in Lee County. The survey also features a set of special topic questions that change each month. The goal of these questions is to learn more about business owner perspectives on more current events. Special topic questions in the latest survey focused on the effects of rising prices on businesses.
The most recent report for the second quarter of 2022 has just been released, and 58% of the surveyed executives indicated economic conditions in Lee County were better compared to a year ago. The index did slip in the second quarter of 2022, down just 3.6 points to 64.0.
One concern comes from business owners’ inability to find a qualified workforce. Lee County Economic Development recently announced that through American Rescue Plan Funds (ARPA) Lee County is partnering with local institutions to fund programs that address the gap in qualified candidates. Both FGCU and Florida Southwestern State College (FSW) are already seeing a great response from interested candidates. Additionally, many of our investors are offering micro-credentialing or digital badge courses and guaranteeing interviews upon completion, thereby closing the gap on skilled workers and employment opportunities in our region.
While hiring is a major concern, inflation remains the No. 1 challenge for business owners, which is affecting all aspects of their operating costs. The Council for Community and Economic Research released the quarter over quarter price changes for Lee County, which showed that in categories such as services, consumer goods and produce prices have seen an average increase of 7.2% from Quarter 1 to Quarter 2 of 2022.
The quarter over quarter price changes for Lee County also showed a 26.2% quarter over quarter increase for housing costs for the second quarter of 2022. The Horizon Foundation is committed to research initiatives addressing the housing cost concerns for the local workforce, including DevelopLee, an Attainable Housing Study. This was another point of concern in the business climate survey and is an issue the foundation is committed to researching and helping to find solutions for.
The Horizon Foundation helps fund initiatives that contribute to the long-term economic development and vitality of Lee County, like funding the marketing efforts of the Economic Development Office (EDO). The EDO helps existing businesses grow their brands, encourages entrepreneurship and attracts new businesses that diversify and strengthen our economy.
Though our current business index is not ideal, there are ways that the Horizon Foundation has and will continue to assist to raise that climate perception and we believe these efforts will have a positive impact for the next quarter. We will also continue to look for opportunities where the Foundation and our investors can provide further support. The Horizon Foundation is committed to continued economic growth for all businesses in Lee County.
Submitted by John Talmage and Christopher Spiro