When Peter Bagwell and two business partners decided to move to Fort Myers from Michigan to start a manufacturing company in 2010, they weren't sure what to expect.
“It was a leap of faith,” says Bagwell.
But their experience successfully launching a manufacturing company called Polygon Solutions two years ago shows that it is possible for real estate and tourism-dependent economies like Fort Myers' to become more diversified.
Bagwell and his two partners, Jim Cox and Steve Derbin, didn't choose Fort Myers for business reasons. They wanted to live here for the weather and the water activities like boating.
Bagwell sold his home in Michigan for what he owed. “I sold it in two days,” he says. “I had bought it as a foreclosure.”
Polygon is a niche manufacturer. It makes special tools for other manufacturers who need to drill holes in screws so liquid or gas can pass through. These special screws are used for medical, aeronautic and automotive industries. Bagwell declines to share financial results, but says the company doubled its first-year sales. Its products cost from $50 to $700.
Many Floridians don't quite understand the process until Bagwell explains. “I have to teach a little class every time I meet somebody,” he chuckles.
That includes bankers, too. Bagwell says most bankers in the Fort Myers area don't understand manufacturing and are reluctant to finance startups in that industry, he says. Except for the equipment, Bagwell says the partners financed the company with their own savings.
Florida is unlike Michigan, which has a vast network of manufacturers that supply the auto industry. “When we first got here it was definitely a shock,” says Bagwell, who has spent his career up north. “Here you really have to search out suppliers.”
But manufacturing pioneers in the region such as Arthrex and Structure Medical paved the way for establishing a budding network of related industries. “Some of them are our customers,” says Bagwell. “The fact that they were already here was a big bonus for us.”
The marine industry also has been established in Southwest Florida for some time. “I couldn't believe how many machine shops there are here,” Bagwell says. “There's a lot of marine.”
Bagwell and his partners timed their move well because they were able to find reasonably priced industrial space near Southwest Florida International Airport. That's important because Polygon's customers are global and delivery services can pick up late in the day. “When we came, the leftovers from the construction boom were pretty good for us,” Bagwell says, noting that they had agreed on a lease within a week of their arrival.
Fact is, Polygon can locate in places such as Fort Myers because of the Internet. Polygon has a well polished website and it advertises in trade publications such as Today's Medical Developments, a medical device journal. “Orthopedics is huge,” he says.
While Bagwell says he's not aware of competition from Asia, he says Polygon's edge is innovation. “We're inventing new stuff and we think it's going to work,” he says. “It's fun.”