Returning home early to Naples from the Christmas holidays was a good decision; travelling back on Sunday, December 28, 2014 however, was not. The three lane parking lot called I-75 southbound was playing host to bumper-to-bumper and in some cases door-to-door activity which reminded me more of the Coca Cola 600 NASCAR race than a Sunday drive in the Sunshine State. I asked SIRI several times to explain the stop and go traffic we were encountering. Each time her response was something mysterious and yet familiar.
One Word: SNOWBIRDS! They were travelling by the thousands to Southwest Florida, an annual pilgrimage, bringing people and money as far south and as fast as they could resulting in a cacophony of voices and interests that won’t complete their round trip until sometime in the spring.
And we welcome them; that’s our job! We throw open our roads, parks, businesses, beaches and restaurants. We pull our patience out from deep within our closets and slip it on again like an old familiar shirt and we pray to exhibit the kind of kindness to our guests that we hope to receive from them.
FACT: During Season Collier’s resident population increases from 340,000 to more than 445,000 people living here on a daily basis.
FACT: Demographers who study such things tell us that over the next 15 years our daily population will grow by more than 100,000. Our seasonal company will increase as well.
Why? Why do people love Southwest Florida and in particular Collier County and Naples? Why did you move here and why do you invite others to join for you for short visits? Why will our population grow by more than 100,000 over the next decade and a half? The answer of course is our quality of life, our environment, our amenities and our opportunity.
The secret is out: Naples is Top of Mind and Top of Lists that matter. As long as we sustain our quality of life, protect our environment, improve our amenities and increase our opportunity people will want to live, work and play in Paradise.
Here’s a sampling of the evidence, and there’s much more, but this is a good primer:
- Forbes Magazine: # 1 Best Cities in America for Future Job Growth: Naples
- Top Twenty Beach Town Housing Markets: #2 Naples, #5 Marco
- Top 20 Small Cities in Florida: #16 Naples
- Forbes Magazine Top Places to Retire Rich: Naples
- Robert Wood Johnson Foundation 2014 County Health Rankings in FL: Collier County Health Outcomes #2
- Robert Wood Johnson Foundation 2014 County HealthRankings in FL: Collier County Health Factors #3
- University of British Columbia: Happiest Places in USA#4 Naples
- USA Today–Gallup Poll: Top Ten Cities for Overall Wellbeing: Naples–Marco Island #7
- America’s Happiest Seaside Towns: #2 Naples
- Travelers’ Choice Top 10 Islands in the World: Marco Island #4
And on the list goes: Ten Best Romantic North American Getaways: #6 Naples; Top 5 Cities to Spend the Holidays in: Naples; National Geographic 100 Places that could Change your Child’s Life: Marco Island Dolphin Explorer Cruise and 10,000 Islands Dolphin Project; The Robb Report: 2014 Top Resorts: #23 Ritz-Carlton, Naples; Conde Nest: America’s Top Food Cities: #17 Naples. Those and many more reasons just like them explain why people come here and that’s the product we have to continually develop and improve.
And we know intuitively that other sectors of our economy will have to be encouraged, developed, grown and sustained over time so that our economy is not based solely on one very important target, namely leisure, lifestyle and travel.
The question becomes, “Can we be top of mind and top of list with respect to other business sectors?” We make waves in the Gulf of Mexico and that fact alone moves us to the top of many lists. We’re going to have to make much more than waves if we want to compete to keep our own kids in this market, to keep our best and brightest minds here, if we hope to help existing businesses expand and if we hope to recruit
Those are the issues on top of the lists I pondered sitting in the I-75 traffic driving home to Naples–all the while thinking, “We have a great opportunity. Let’s keep it top of mind and at the top of our list.”