Friday, April 18, 2003

George Mindling Column 4-18-2003


Stuck in the Middle


In a recent meeting with Bob Tunis, North Port's Director of Economic Development, a distinct difference of attitude became apparent between our neighbors to our immediate north and our Charlotte County community. While many factors must be considered. from impact fees and permitting, and even access to Interstate 75, one attitude is immediately and obviously different: North Port considers growth a good thing.

It's not that certain segments of Charlotte County don't want growth. We, unfortunately, have an excess of CAVE people who rail against any form of progress. In case you're new to our area, CAVE people are Citizens Against Virtually Everything! And there are still enough around to cause Charlotte County to lag behind the rest of the state in average salary and median income!

Perhaps North Port's lowering of the average age of its residents from the mid-60s only five short years ago, quite like Charlotte County, to an average age of mid-40s has something to do with the effort and attitudes in working to bring in clean, high-tech industries.  Charlotte County's median age, however, has increased slightly in those five years. It is still the oldest "average age" county in Florida.

To complicate matters, our economic development focus tends to emphasize an alignment with our neighbors some 30 miles to the south instead of the community a few miles to our north.

Charlotte County has elected to align with the Lee County Economic Development Council and not interact with North Port or Sarasota economic development groups.  Janet Watermeier, Lee County's outgoing economic development director, is well known and highly respected for the outstanding work she has done for Lee County and the Fort Myers area, and indeed the benefit of that alliance cannot be disputed. Why, however, must that alignment be mutually exclusive?

North Port is closer to the shopping and restaurants in Port Charlotte than to Venice. That is changing. As planning for hotels, civic centers, restaurants and shopping areas becomes actual construction, Port Charlotte will feel the drain of cash flow as traffic remains or even migrates to North Port. Major name retailers will soon find North Port. Only a 10 percent growth from its current traffic and residential numbers will validate a new expansion model that may well trigger another round of interest and development.

North Port will also benefit from the planned Murdock town center, which will be only several miles from there, It would be to Charlotte County's benefit to communicate and cooperate with not only the city of North Port, but Sarasota County as well.

North Port's overall demeanor. not just the economic development office. has a reputation for bending over backward s to welcome new businesses and residents to the city. We should look at North Port as an expansion partner, not as a competitor.

Even if we did get the new Bob Evans and Carrabas.

George Mindling © 2003

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