"Our Southwest Florida Paradise"
By Congressman Byron Donalds
Published in "Life in Naples Magazine" – December 2023
Southwest Florida is an economic, demographic, agricultural, and environmental treasure with many inherent benefits that should be recognized, acknowledged, and appreciated.
Our recent history begins on May 13, 1887, when the Florida State Legislature partitioned Monroe County to create Lee County. Nearly thirty years later, on May 8, 1923, Lee County was partitioned to create Collier County. Everglades City is the birthplace of Collier County–the largest county in our state, and nearly double the size of Lee County in square mileage. Both counties share a combined 95 miles of pristine, white sand beaches, with 154 public access points. Notably, eighty percent of Collier County is set aside for preservation purposes.
Collier County hosts twenty-five different natural environmental communities is home to twenty-five threatened/ endangered species and has afforded special county protections to eighteen specific species including the Florida panther, the sea turtle, and the Florida black bear. In addition, Collier County hosts six state parks, twenty bodies of water, and five federally designated lands including Big Cypress National Preserve, Everglades National Park, Florida Panther National Wildlife Refuge, Rookery Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve, and Ten Thousand Islands National Wildlife Refuge.
On the other hand, Lee County hosts ten different natural environmental communities, is home to twenty-three threatened/ endangered species, has afforded special county protections to forty-five specific species and possesses one of the world’s largest populations of bottlenose dolphins and West Indian manatees. Furthermore, Lee County is home to twelve state parks, eight bodies of water, 400 miles of canals, and the federally designated JN “Ding” Darling National Wildlife Refuge–part of the largest undeveloped mangrove ecosystem in the United States. The natural beauty of our community has attracted the attention of the nation and as a result Lee County and Collier County respectively rank as the third and fifth top destinations for second homes in America.
Not only is our community home to many incredible natural wonders, but it is an economic powerhouse. Between Lee and Collier Counties there are a combined 3,976 lodging establishments and 1,132 farms spanning 235,650 acres and grossing a combined $294,100,000 annually. Together, Lee and Collier Counties notably produce 2,980,000 boxes of citrus annually. This combined output results in $1,037,100,000 in annual exports and 443,810 in total employment, with the largest local industries being health care and retail trade.
Sporting culture has also become an important part of our economy and our community. Collier County is ranked number one in the State of Florida in golf courses per capita while Lee County ranks number four statewide. There is even a golf course for every seven square miles in Lee County. Moreover, we are a baseball hub that is home to the spring training facilities for the Boston Red Sox and Minnesota Twins, the regular season home of the Fort Myers Mighty Mussels, and the consistently successful Florida Gulf Coast University Eagles baseball team. Above all, Estero, is home to the Florida Everblades ice hockey team–minor league affiliate of the Florida Panthers National Hockey League franchise. The Everblades are back-to-back champions, have won the most championships in league history and swept last season’s finals.
Overall, there is nothing more important to a community than its human capital. Together Collier and Lee counties are home to 1,193,090 people including 73,334 veterans, 168,385 students and a projected population of 1,619,113 by 2050.
All of these factors have contributed to the rapid growth of our community over the past decades. Recently, I introduced a resolution on the floor of the House of Representatives alongside Congressman Mario Diaz-Balart, that recognizes, acknowledges, and appreciates the economic potential, demographic conglomeration, agricultural diversity, and environmental paradise that Lee County, Florida, and Collier County, Florida, have to offer.
I am proud to be a resident of Southwest Florida and I am honored to represent the paradise we are blessed to call home in the halls of Congress.