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Economic Forecast 2018 - Fort Myers and Naples

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  • | 11:00 a.m. November 17, 2017
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Julie Taylor
Owner | Jami's Boutique , Bonita Springs, Naples
Taylor, who bought the independent women's clothing boutique in 2014 after spending the prior decade working for the store as a merchandise buyer, has big expectations for Jami's in 2018. One reason for the optimism: A second Jami's, on upscale Fifth Avenue in Naples, is scheduled to open by the end of November. Taylor says she didn't hold back on the build out or in buying merchandise to fill it, knowing being on Fifth Avenue is a bold move.

“It will be beautiful,” she says. Taylor declines to disclose how much she will spend on the new store, only to say it's substantial. It also will require adding at least five employees, which will double the payroll. “It's a big investment,” says Taylor, “but I have no doubt we will make a great return.”

Industry: Taylor is also optimistic because she thinks the ongoing battle between department stores and e-commerce companies leaves a gap on the service side, which presents opportunities for independent retailers. That's another reason she sought a spot on Fifth Avenue — to get in front of a demographic with disposable income and clients who seek an elevated shopping experience. “My customers don't want to shop online,” says Taylor. “They want to touch and feel and shop for clothes in person. And they want the concierge service we offer.”

Like several other Naples entrepreneurs, Taylor worried Hurricane Irma would have a lingering effect on business. “For a few weeks, everyone was nervous,” says Taylor. But by late October, she adds, people were back “shopping and spending money again.” Taylor is so confident the economy will stay on the upswing that she went to full-staff mode before Halloween this year, not the normal week after Christmas. Says Taylor: “I think it's going to be a really good season.”
—Mark Gordon


David Diamond
President | DeAngelis Diamond, Naples
Construction management firm DeAngelis Diamond is experiencing success in 2017, with projected revenues of $350 million. It had $270 million in revenue in 2016. The firm has seen strong growth in senior living and apartment complexes, and Diamond, the co-founder, says another industry on the rise is storage companies. “The storage facility industry is really taking off, “ he says. Companies are building more high-tech and professional-looking buildings, he says. In addition to the Naples headquarters, DeAngelis Diamond also has locations in Fort Myers, Sarasota, Birmingham, Ala., and Nashville, Tenn. In the first quarter of 2018, the company will announce two new offices that will open in major metropolitan areas, Diamond says. It's recruiting team members for those offices now. He says, “We're investing in growth for our company.”

Industry: Diamond says he expects to see continued growth in the industry. To predict where the construction industry might be going in the areas it does business, DeAngelis Diamond executives look at indicators such as what projects architects have coming on board. Says Diamond: “If they're designing something today, it will be built 12 to 24 months from today.” A key challenge going into next year for the industry, Diamond says, is “finding enough qualified people to hire to perform the work coming on board.”

Region: Hurricane Irma had a temporary impact on the region, he says, and DeAngelis Diamond lost about two weeks of production in the preparation and aftermath of the storm. But Diamond says the firm will more than make up for it in October, November and December. “People are working overtime, longer hours to get those projects back on schedule.” Overall, he says, the growth the company is seeing across the country is occurring in Southwest Florida, too.
— Grier Ferguson

Diane Pisani
Founder | Your Home Watch Professionals
Pisani's business has had a “fantastic” 2017, she says, driven partially by a heavy increase in demand from Hurricane Irma. The storm, she says, “separated the hobby home watchers from the home-watch professionals.” Pisani's company, founded in 2008, trains those would-be home-watch professionals through seminars and classes statewide. Graduates of Pisani's classes can start their own business that caters to seasonal residents. Pisani plans to add an online webinar training component in 2018, which she projects will be another boost for her company. “The demand for home watchers,” she says, “is increasing rapidly and exponentially.”

The home-watch sector, says Pisani, is at a tipping point in recognition as a legitimate industry, both in real estate and insurance. A pioneer in the industry, Pisani hopes that cause will receive a positive jolt in 2018, with the scheduled launch of the International Home Watch Alliance. Pisani, who has helped lead efforts to launch the alliance for the past year, says the organization will bring licensing rules and standardization to the industry, which traditionally has been composed of mom-and-pop and one-person outfits. A key goal of the alliance is to raise the standards of the home watch industry, which in turn, Pisani says, will bring in more consumers who feel comfortable trusting their home to others.

“Home watch isn't regulated by anybody,” Pisani says. “If you want to cut someone's hair in Florida you have to get a license, but anyone can watch your home.”

Region: While Hurricane Irma flooded Pisani's company with interest and new customers, the storm, she says, also put a dent in the rolling Southwest Florida economy — at least in September. By mid to late October, she says the economy in the Fort Myers-Naples region began to rise. “Overall it's been positive,” Pisani says. “It seems like season has gotten started a little earlier. People are spending money again.”
— Mark Gordon

Jill McCrory
Founder | McCrory Law Firm, Punta Gorda
Being one of the biggest law firms in Charlotte County, but not one with a corporate, billing-hours-above-all-else mentality, has been a strong model for McCrory, who founded her firm in 2009. Billings at the firm, with five attorneys and 15 support personnel, have increased 20% a year for several years, and she says, “We could hire three more attorneys and have plenty of work for them.” McCrory recently backed up her confidence in the continuing business surge for 2018 with her wallet: In September she closed on a deal to buy the firm's 6,000-square-foot office building, on U.S. 41 in downtown Punta Gorda, for $1.2 million. Even with the good times, McCrory plans for the next downturn by trying to manage the growth rate. “I don't want to be caught off-guard,” she says.

Industry: One trend many law firms are watching closely is the federal tax law overhaul. If the estate tax is gutted, for example, that could be a big blow to the transaction side of the business at many firms. McCrory says her firm handles 20 estate plans a month, and that business could decrease dramatically if the law changes. The McCrory Law Firm also works in a dozen other disciplines, from land use to business planning to divorce law, so it has a cushion if one side of the business falls off significantly.

Region: Charlotte County is beginning to shed its underdeveloped image, McCrory says, given all the commercial activity in the works in Punta Gorda and elsewhere. Her firm is handling some of the work, for zoning or other areas, so she gets a close-up view. One of those projects is the new Marriott SpringHill Suites in Punta Gorda. Says McCrory: “There's an amazing amount of projects going on.”
— Mark Gordon


Fabian Behague
Managing Principal | Artefact Studio, Fort Myers
Behague says his architecture and building-design services firm has been busy since he founded it in March 2013. The past year, he adds, has been “excellent, and we think from 2017 to 2018 will be even better.” This year, Behague opened a second office, in Brickell City Centre in Miami, to meet demand for new business from current clients. He hopes to add a Tampa office soon as well, possibly in 2018 or 2019. He recently secured work in Tampa, helping to design a 78,000-square-foot facility for Freightliner Trucks. The firm has designed and completed more than 500,000 square feet of corporate space and landmark buildings for clients in the past four years. “Trusted clients like what we do,” says Behague.

One trend Behague sees in architecture is clients seem to be more willing to take chances with projects and go for something with a unique twist. “We are trying to move away from the typical to something more visually appealing,” he says. “That's how I want to define my projects.”

Region: Behague, 43, who grew up in the French speaking part of Belgium, says the economy in Southwest Florida has been vibrant lately, and he expects it to stay that way. “Things have been doing really well,” he says. “It's not like it was back in '08, with all the empty lots.”

Behague also has something few other entrepreneurs have: perspective of what's it like to come from a European country with a truly stagnant economy. Taxes in Belgium he says, can run as high as 47%. “It's not a pretty place to live and work if you want to grow a business,” Behague says.
— Mark Gordon


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