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The Cape Coral-Fort Myers area is 96th out of the Top 100 metro areas when it comes to jobs created directly by foreign investment, according to a report released today by Washington think tank The Brookings Institution.
But authorities say that's not necessarily a bad thing: A lot of foreigners pour money into the local economy through indirect means such as buying a vacation home here.
"This isn't a performance metric," said Kenan Fikri, a policy analyst at Brookings. "Foreign direct investment jobs aren't unambiguously good."
The top metro areas for foreign investment are found in high-tech centers like No. 1 Bridgeport, Conn., or oil industry powerhouses like Houston (No. 5). At the bottom are places that are lacking in such heavily globalized industries such as No. 100 Provo, Utah.
Link to the database: here.
Fikri said, the mainstays of the Southwest Florida economy — tourism and construction — aren't likely candidates for a foreign owner.
What's lacking here, Fikri said, are the high-tech or industrial sectors where much direct foreign investment often comes from mergers and acquisitions.
That type of economy can be built up by initiatives such as FGCU's planned six-acre technology institute, within the privately owned Innovation Hub research park near Southwest Florida International Airport, he said.
But the major engines of Lee County's economy don't lend themselves much to direct overseas investors — although major homebuilder Taylor Morrison, for example, is British-owned.
Tourism isn't an industry that lends itself to foreign investment, said John Naylor, a hospitality industry consultant who for many years worked as an executive with Fort Myers Beach's Pink Shell resort.
An absentee owner of a resort, he said, often isn't able to spot the sometimes subtle trends in how the business is faring, while "If you're manufacturing widgets, it's all about numbers, production and cost."
The only major tourism venue owned by foreigners in Southwest Florida is the old Amtel Hotel in downtown Fort Myers, owned by a Thai family.
The once-thriving hotel has been closed since 2008, and developer Bob MacFarlane is working on plans to purchase the hotel and bring it back as an independent living rental community for people 55 and older.
What this area does have, Naylor said, is that it's very attractive to people overseas who buy a house directly.
'The biggest thing is the Germans who stay at resorts and end up buying their own places," especially in Cape Coral, he said. "Housing prices have been a little lower in the Cape than in other places."
Florida TaxWatch said in a report released Thursday that the state consistently leads the nation in international home sales, with 23 percent of the total in 2013.
In 2012-13, the report states, Cape Coral-Fort Myers was the fifth most popular place for international sales, with 6.1 percent of the total. Naples-Marco Island was eighth with 5.5 percent.
Real estate broker Greg Fous, CEO of Fort Myers-based Better Homes and Gardens Market America Group, said international buyers have become more comfortable with the idea of buying here.
"We've noticed this influx," he said, especially from Germany and Israel. "I've got more people with money than I have deals to put them into."
Fikri said that though high-tech venues such as IHUB can help an economy, it's important to remember that not every metro area needs to do that to succeed.
"It gets to the fundamentals of why cities exist," he said. "Some of them exist because they're near a natural resource."|
TOP AND BOTTOM FIVE FOR SHARE OF DIRECT FOREIGN INVESTMENT JOBS
1. Bridgeport, Conn.
2. Greensboro, N.C.
3. Worcester, Mass.
4. El Paso, Texas
5. Houston, Texas
96. Cape Coral-Fort Myers
97. Lakeland
98. Little Rock, Ark.
99. Modesto, Calif.
100. Provo, Utah
SOURCE: Brookings Institution