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  • | 10:00 a.m. July 18, 2014
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When the Southwest Florida Economic Development Alliance sent out a request for quotes for its new website, it drew 30 proposals.

It's easy to understand why: The alliance is the new regional organization that plans to market the area that includes Fort Myers and Naples. It's the first time the region has cooperated this closely to attract business to the area.

The winner of the contract was a 2-year-old company in Bonita Springs most people haven't heard of called iPartnerMedia.

Founded by Mark Pace in 2012, a transplant from Vancouver, Canada, the company's main line of business has been printing for small businesses. “I grew up as a printer,” says Mark Pace, president of the company, who acquired Bonita Print Shop and renamed it iPartnerMedia.

The 48-year-old grew his previous print company in Vancouver to a $3-million-a-year business before selling in 2008. He moved to Southwest Florida soon after. “I knew there was a hockey rink here,” he chuckles. “I had no idea the economy was bad.”

But when he decided to re-enter the printing business in 2012, Pace realized that small-business owners who came to him for printed marketing materials such as brochures and postcards also needed better websites. “Our love is helping small-business owners grow,” Pace says. Besides, he says, “printing has changed a lot. It's more commodity based.”

Enter Randy Mitchelson, a founder of the Southwest Florida Regional Technology Partnership and National Web Leads, a company that created hundreds of websites for financial service companies.

Mitchelson, now vice president of marketing at iPartnerMedia, says combining the design capabilities of a printer with the technical know-how of Web creation is unusual, but it gave the firm an advantage.
Most printers and Web-design companies stick to their own areas of expertise. “We're a company that wears a lot of hats,” Pace says.

“They knew their stuff,” says Laura Holquist, chairwoman of the Southwest Florida Economic Development Alliance. The alliance is similar to the Tampa Bay Partnership, a regional economic development organization that has brought together competing groups in the Tampa-St. Petersburg area.

Currently, the alliance is composed of the Greater Naples Chamber of Commerce, Florida Gulf Coast University and the Horizon Council, Lee County's public-private partnership for economic development.

Holquist says the alliance wanted to make sure a locally based firm would win the website contract. “We're trying to grow the local economy,” she reasons.

The alliance garnered 30 proposals after it publicized its search for a website design firm and host. “We had a list of maybe 10 firms, but we thought it was important enough to really get the word out there,” she says. (The value of the contract is undisclosed.)

Holquist, the retired president of Allete Properties in Fort Myers, says site selectors and CEOs of companies that are considering relocating to Florida need data more than anything else. “You're not trying to glitz them,” she says. “They'll be able to download the data and put it into their spreadsheet if we can give them that data in usable form.”

Already, Gary Jackson, director of the Regional Economic Research Institute at Florida Gulf Coast University, has compiled local economic data in recent years. The information includes everything from the area's workforce to tax incentives and schools. “Quality of life is a big deal,” Holquist says.

In addition, security is a significant issue because many companies undertake relocation efforts with great secrecy so they don't alarm employees, customers and regulators. “Privacy is very important to them,” says Mitchelson.

For iPartnerMedia, the publicity of the alliance's website should boost its visibility. “That should open some doors for us,” Mitchelson says.

Follow Jean Gruss on Twitter @JeanGruss


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