The client, one of the largest land holding companies in Florida, sought an economic development strategy for its recently-developed master-planned community and the surrounding County. The community was founded in 2005 via an innovative Rural Land Stewardship Program promoting compact, sustainable development and the preservation of environmentally sensitive lands. At the time of the study, the community was home to a university, several residential neighborhoods, a town center, and a school; however, its relative “newness” meant a critical business mass had yet to be achieved. The County was struggling to attract companies to an area with a limited labor pool; at the same time, drawing new residents to the Community in the absence of jobs was equally challenging.
Additionally, the regulatory environment influencing County-wide economic development was having a negative impact on growth. The region was not perceived as being pro-business in part due to conflicting stakeholder goals and a lack of competitive economic incentives.
The client requested an economic development study with a view to identifying industries which would be prime targets for its economic development efforts. Because the success of an economic development strategy also hinged on public support, a secondary objective was to provide the County and its Economic Development Council with recommendations as to how best to facilitate growth.
The development of an optimal strategy began with identification of the following key research objectives:
- Which industry sectors would be most likely to locate/relocate to the area?
- What entities would benefit from proximity to existing businesses and take advantage of existing infrastructure and amenities?
- How would these prospective users help to define the area’s identity?
- What state incentives and/or federal grants could be offered to companies and how did they compare to other regions?
A SWOT analysis was completed, which assessed the community’s relative competitiveness with respect to various industries. It included a summary of locational aspects, the local economy, labor and real estate markets, the regulatory context (including economic incentives), and public perception. The latter was based on a series of interviews with key local stakeholders. Potential target industries – notably medical device manufacturing, agricultural research, medical tourism and ecotourism – were then identified. Recommendations focused on strengthening public-private partnerships and various tactics that the County could employ to encourage growth, such as encouraging workforce development, creating a marketing plan, offering affordable housing, developing additional amenities, and promoting local events. Examples of best practices and case studies where economic incentives were successfully used to attract business and create jobs were also presented.
The County planned to use this economic development strategy as the basis of a marketing plan for the community. Additionally, select findings and recommendations were used to facilitate public Economic Development Council workshops with a view to assisting the County in creating a consistent approach to economic development.