SWFL Enterprise Center Background

The history of the Southwest Florida Enterprise Center (SWFEC), formerly the Business Development Center, goes back to initiatives and efforts over 20 years ago to promote business development and entrepreneurial opportunities in the City of Fort Myers.


The SWFEC was established in January 1988. From 1988 to 2002 the SWFEC was part of the City of Fort Myers Department of Community Development. In 2002, the SWFEC, via an inter-local agency agreement was moved from the City of Fort Myers Community Development Department to the Community Redevelopment Agency.

Self Sufficiency

In 2004 a study was conducted to determine the feasibility of the SWFEC and how it could become self sufficient in the near term future. Results of the study indicated not only a continued need for a business incubator, but an increasing demand for all that it can offer to the region. A plan for expanding facilities, adding requested programs and services, and achieving self sufficiency was submitted to the CRA Board of Commissioners.

As a result, the CRA Board of Commissioners authorized SWFEC staff to prepare submission of an application to the U.S. Department of Commerce, Economic Development Administration for matching grant funds to expand and upgrade facilities at the SWFEC and to develop a plan to encourage other public and private funding of the project.

Economic Development

Fort Myers Metropolitan Statistical Area (MSA) is constantly ranked as one of the fastest growing areas in the United States. Forecast magazine lists Fort Myers-Cape Coral 15th in its “Booming 25" ranking of the 25 fastest growing metro areas through the year 2005, while Demographics Daily listed Fort Myers-Cape Coral as a 5-star community for job growth, population growth and small business growth.

Currently the population for the Fort Myers MSA for 2005 is estimated by the various forecasters to be between 498,000 and 543,400 people. This trend is expected to grow through 2015.

The employment in the region and Fort Myers has been steadily growing. From 2000 to 2003, total employment has grown in Fort Myers MSA from 186,535 to 208,375. Estimates are that total employment grew to 260,000 in 2005, and grew to 295,000 by 2010 (this is approximately a 13% increase over 5 years).

Fort Myers MSA

Total Retail Sales

In 2010 total retail sales were forecast to reach $7.9 billion, and $9.2 billion by 2015. Growth historically was 46% from 1990 to 2000 and was forecast to rise by a similar amount of 43% from 2000 to 2010.

Total Earnings

Total earnings, the sum of wages and salaries and other labor income and proprietors’ income, were $4 billion dollars in 1990 (1996 constant dollars). From 1996 to 2000, total earnings rose by 52.1% reaching $6 billion dollars and are expected to continue the trend. Growth from 2000 to 2010 was forecast to rise by 54.9%, reaching $9.3 billion. Economic forecast models predicted healthy annual growth rate of about 3.6% from 2005 to 2010. This trend is expected to continue with total earnings rising to $11.1 billion in 2015.

City of Fort Myers

Over the last decade there has been a tremendous redevelopment in the City of Fort Myers. Downtown Fort Myers has become a center for new businesses, restaurants, and social clubs. Much of this growth and opportunity is attributable to the Fort Myers Redevelopment Agency. Increasingly we are seeing the growth and economic development opportunities moving east of the city to Interstate 75.

Business Incubation

A business incubator is an economic development tool designed to accelerate the growth and success of entrepreneurial companies through an array of business support resources and services. A business incubator’s main goal is to produce successful firms that will leave the program financially viable and freestanding, and to promote growth and economic opportunity in the region. Currently there are over 1,500 small businesses being incubated all around the world.

Benefits of Business Incubators

Make a Difference in Their Communities

In 2001 alone, North American incubators assisted more than 35,000 start-up companies that provided full-time employment for nearly 82,000 workers and generated annual earnings of more than $7 billion.

Create Successful Companies & Reduce Risk of Investment

Business incubators reduce the risk of small business failures. The National Business Incubation Association (NBIA) member incubators report that 87% of all firms that graduated from their incubators are still in business. Startup firms served by NBIA member incubators annually increased sales by $240,000 each and added an average of 3.7 full and part-time jobs per firm.

The Industry Continues to Grow

Today there are approximately 950 business incubators in North America, up from 587 in 1998 and just 12 in 1980. Approximately 60% of business incubators are either self sufficient or could be self sufficient if subsidies ceased. In 1997, only 13% believed they could continue at current levels without subsidies.

Economic Development Best Value

For every $1 of estimated annual public investment provided to the incubator, clients and graduates of NBIA member incubators generate approximately $30 in local tax revenue alone. NBIA members report that 84% of incubator graduates stay in their communities and continue to provide a return to their investors. In addition, publicly supported incubators create jobs at a cost of about $1,100 each, whereas other publicly supported job creation mechanisms commonly cost more than $10,000 per job created.

The NBIA estimates that North American incubator clients and graduates have created approximately half a million jobs since 1980. That is enough jobs to employ every person living in Denver, CO. Every 50 jobs created by an incubator client generate another 25 jobs in the community.

Business Incubator Facts

Business incubators serve a variety of communities and markets. Some facts about incubators are:

  • 47% of incubators are mixed use, accepting a wide variety of clients:
    • 37% focus on technology firms
    • 7% serve manufacturing firms
    • 6% focus on service businesses
    • The remainder concentrate on community revitalization projects or serve niche markets
    • 84% of incubators are nonprofit and 16% are for profit
  • 44% of incubators draw their clients from urban areas:
    • 31% from rural areas
    • 16% from suburban areas
    • 9% of all programs draw clients from outside their region or from outside the United States
  • The most common sponsors of incubators are:
    • Academic institutions (25%)
    • Government (16%)
    • Economic development organizations (15%)
    • For-profit entities (10%)
    • 19% of incubators have no sponsoring entity
  • The most common goals of incubation programs are:
    • Creating jobs in a community
    • Enhancing a community’s entrepreneurial climate
    • Retaining businesses in a community
    • Building or accelerating growth in a local industry
    • Diversifying local economies