Tuesday, December 27, 2016

Let's Tip One to Southwest Florida

As the ball drops, here's a countdown to the New Year -- a countdown worth a toast or two.

10 - That's the state ranking of the NCH Healthcare System by U.S. News & World Report. Hats off to the NCH hospitals, clinics and the thousands of healthcare professionals who keep us well. It's one of the many reasons southwest Florida is so special.

9 - The percent increase in Collier County property values, a bonanza for for homeowners. Not only is the weather great and the economy booming, but our property values keep on rising. I'll take a 9% return any day.

8 - The number of chamber music programs in Naples. That's right, eight! And that's just chamber music. Add to that local opera, church music, Stay in May and the marvelous Naples Philharmonic, to say nothing of jazz groups and even barbershop quartets. When it comes to music, there's something for everybody.

7 - Seven hurricanes hovered around Florida in 2016 and two, Hermine and Matthew, did some damage, about $1 billion worth. But, on balance, we fared pretty well. There were no direct hits of the magnitude of Wilma (2005) or Andrew (1992), and the state's response to flooding and electrical outages was exemplary.

6 - As in a 6% increase in tourists visiting Florida. Storms, Zika and the Orlando nightclub shooting had little effect as some 110 million made their way to The Sunshine State. The tourism industry accounts for more than 1 in 10 jobs in Florida.

5 - Unemployment dropped below 5%, as hospitality and construction pumped new jobs into Collier County. New home sales were up and commercial construction is booming. Looking ahead, Arthrex plans to add 560 high-paying jobs and over $60 million in new investment. Collier remains among the state's top counties for economic growth.

4 - Continuing the good news, Florida racked up two number fours: The 4th fastest growing state and the 4th best state in which to do business -- another check-off on the list of why companies should move here. The contrast to my native Connecticut, where businesses are leaving in droves, couldn't be greater.

3 - We have three new Collier County commissioners this year. Andy Sollis, Bill McDaniel and Burt Saunders join a board facing a ton of issues, the most important being affordable workforce housing, a problem that has gone unaddressed for years. But that's not all. There's the challenge of managing what is expected to be massive growth to the south and east, plus a host of environmental issues, not least the growing problem of water pollution. The new commissioners have their work cut out for them.

2 - The nearly $2 billion in federal money targeted for Everglades restoration. That's the good news. Less certain is the proposed $2.4 billion in state funds to buy sugar land to clean up Lake Okeechobee discharges to the south. Let's hope our state delegation can help push this through.

1 - It's getting to be old hat, but Naples scored another "best." In 2016, the Kiplinger Letter ranked us #1 among "Best Places to Retire," citing the weather, beaches, the growing cultural scene, low taxes and some 90 golf courses. Foremost of the benefits was said to be "healthful living."

So let's tip one to 2016 and drink another to the good news continuing in 2017.

Happy New Year!

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