Promoting local businesses: Empowering entrepreneurs and boosting Lee County’s economy 

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By Michael R. Davis.

Growing up, many of us learned the value of keeping money in the family. With a weekly allowance earned through a few chores, I quickly learned the art of budgeting. If I spent my allowance too soon but still wanted to join my friends for sunflower seeds and baseball cards, I had a simple solution: ask my parents for an extra job. 

Mom was always on the move, driving along the red clay dirt roads of Southwest Georgia, and without fail, her little pick-up could use a good wash. When I needed extra cash, I’d grab my bucket, soap, and sponges and muster the courage to ask. Her response, “I’d rather keep the money in the family, and you do a better job than the car wash anyway” (I might have added that second part!), wasn’t just about the task. It was about family, community, and keeping resources close to home. 

These childhood lessons, like the importance of keeping resources local, spending within our community, and supporting each other, are deeply ingrained in me. These values resonate here in Southwest Florida, where we cherish not only local products and services but also the stories and connections that come with them. In Lee County, economic growth isn’t just a dream; it is a reality, driven by the Lee County Economic Development Office (Lee EDO). They play a key role in promoting local businesses and encouraging entrepreneurship. 

This past year, Lee EDO launched 50 initiatives to attract businesses and helped dozens of companies expand or relocate here. In 2023, we welcomed 25 new development projects ranging from industrial to commercial and multifamily. Their financial support, including over $14 million from the CARES program and funds for workforce development, reminds me of the community-centric values I learned at home. Lee EDO promotes openness and community involvement with their Development Activity Story Map. This tool makes it easy to see local development and investment, offering everyone a direct look at economic progress. https://edo-leegis.hub.arcgis.com/pages/developmentactivity   

“Our office excels at being a nucleus for entrepreneurs and businesses by prioritizing connecting resources and local businesses of all sizes,” said John Talmage, director of Lee EDO. “Our partnerships with the Small Business Development Center, SCORE, and SWFL Impact Partners have allowed us to collaborate and provide education to Lee County’s businesses and help them become resilient and succeed in adversity. Lessons learned from COVID-19 and Hurricane Ian were applied in Lee County’s efforts to diversify our economy. Concentrated efforts were put into enhancing the business environment in the Alico Corridor with new locations for corporate headquarters, distribution centers, and heavy industrial sites. Centralizing the business node provides relief to the transportation of our workforce, especially those commuting from the east side of the County.” 

My wife, Susana, and I had the privilege of participating in FGCU’s Leadership Academy last year, where we toured the Daveler & Kauanui School of Entrepreneurship. Here, students access state-of-the-art resources, mentorship, and a community of innovators, equipped for entrepreneurial success. Dr. Colleen Robb, Interim Director at FGCU’s Daveler & Kauanui School of Entrepreneurship, highlighted the school’s impact, saying, “We pride ourselves on being the leaders of entrepreneurial education in the SWFL community, and our students are frequently designing projects and businesses that positively impact our area. For example, two of our current graduate students, J.J. Jones and Quay Longs, discovered one of the primary reasons underprivileged high school students don’t attend college is because they find it intimidating. They’ve worked with FGCU, FineMark Bank, and the Smith Private Foundation to launch Strive Hall (https://www.strivehall.org), a program that brings these high school students to our campus for free weekend-long experiences that help to lower that intimidation. The result is a more educated community that can fuel our economy on a systemic level.” 

As Fort Myers evolves, local businesses, entrepreneurs and educational institutions like FGCU, along with organizations like Lee EDO, are crucial to its growing economy. The collaboration between these entities creates an environment conducive to growth and innovation, ensuring a prosperous future for all of Lee County. 

Supporting Local Businesses: Nurturing the Heart of Southwest Florida  

Local businesses are the backbone of Southwest Florida’s economy, and they strengthen our sense of community across Lee County. To support their growth and help them thrive, here are some practical ways you can make a difference: 

  • Dine at local restaurants.  
  • Visit galleries and craft shops to support local artists.  
  • Buy from farmers’ markets to support local farmers and artisans. 
  • Participate in local events like festivals and cultural exhibitions. 
  • Choose local providers for services, from hair salons to home repairs. 

Supporting our local economy extends beyond our shopping, dining or service choices—it involves engaging with local businesses online too. Actions such as liking, sharing, and commenting on their social media pages can enhance their visibility. This kind of support not only helps local businesses gain recognition but also strengthens community connections. 

At Worthington Realty, we do more than sell houses; we support the local businesses, artists and musicians that set Southwest Florida apart. We believe in the strength of our community and the importance of boosting our local economy with talent from our own backyard. Our goal is to help build a place where local shops and culture can grow. As we move forward, we’re excited about a future where supporting local businesses and cultural activities continues to bring us closer together and strengthen Lee County. 

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About the Author 

As one of the owners of Worthington Realty, Inc., Michael R. Davis has been a principal and facilitator in sourcing, evaluating and acquiring more than $1.3 billion in private real estate transactions and partnerships throughout his career. Originally from Leesburg, GA, he has called Fort Myers his home since 2003. With a visionary mindset, Michael plays a crucial role in shaping the culture and future vision of Worthington Realty, always fostering an atmosphere of collaboration and growth.

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About Worthington Realty

Founded in 1989, Worthington Realty is a boutique real estate company specializing in residential sales, rentals and development, predominantly within Lexington Country Club in Fort

Myers and surrounding communities. For more information, please call 239-437-3334 or email info@ftmyersrents.com.